Where The Rubber Hits The Road

Recently, a friend of mine invited me for lunch at St. Susan’s soup kitchen in Jamestown. After lunch, we then visited the offices of the Mental Health Association located in the same building.

I met lots of people, including another friend and volunteer who was serving lunches to the less fortunate.

We are lucky in this community to have such organizations working with people where the need is acute and services are being directly rendered to address that need. If you volunteer at places like this, you know that they are meeting problems head-on “where the rubber hits the road.”

St. Susan’s got started back in the 1980’s when Fathers Nick (Orthodox) and Attea (Catholic) came up with the idea of establishing a mission to feed the poor.

The Mental Health Association’s presence is more recent, having “ramped up” to meet the growing problem of drug addiction. Both were “bottom-up” creations, i.e. they resulted from local initiative, not from the top down.

It is amazing to realize that St. Susan’s now serves more than 100,000 lunches per year at no cost. Many local grocery chains and food suppliers donate thousands of dollars in food each month.

Churches, foundations and other organizations (like the BPU) also support the effort. In the case of the Mental Health association, it is a place where individuals and families struggling with drug addiction can come for counseling and help.

Many of the volunteers and staff at the Association have been addicts themselves at some point. This means that they can connect viscerally with the heartbreak and hopelessness that surround drug addiction.

Yet, there is no sense of futility when you visit these places. People are upbeat, volunteers are enthusiastic. And, as one who hadn’t been there before, I discovered a keen sense that everyone involved knows they are involved in a good cause.

One of the realities of living in this small community which has always appealed to me is that people don’t sit around bemoaning the problems we face. They roll up their sleeves and pitch in looking for a solution.

There was one other aspect of my visit which was especially heartening and that was the fact that the landlord involved, Lynn Development, is a private company which has taken upon itself the mission of providing affordable real estate to help the not-for-profit groups which are operating here.

The building is called the Gateway Center, I am assuming because these organizations are opening the “gates” to a better life for those who are being served.

It is easy to take “pot-shots” and bemoan issues related to poverty and drug addiction that affect our community. It is difficult, time-consuming and challenging to attempt to address these needs.

We should be grateful to those who are involved in providing such services in our community. It is the kind of positive action which makes me grateful that I live in Chautauqua County.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.