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Virus Upends Daily Life

Nonprofits Provide Familiar Comforts

Jeff Rotunda, executive director of the UCAN City Mission in Jamestown, is pictured inside the organization’s West First Street location looking over one of the many beds available on a daily basis. Rotunda said UCAN remains open as other organizations have either closed or reduced operations over the coronavirus pandemic. P-J photos by Eric Tichy

With scores of businesses and organizations either closing or scaling back services to limit person-to-person contact in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, there remains several local nonprofits dedicated to reaching out to those less fortunate.

“We know a lot of things are happening, but there are some bright spots that are still going,” said Jeff Rotunda, executive director of the UCAN City Mission in Jamestown. “We can’t close like all the other agencies that are mandated to close.”

Rotunda said as news of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus began to crop up in New York state and closer to Chautauqua County, worry began to spread that the local homeless shelter would be forced to close it doors. With 19 beds and access to life skills training and personal health care, the mission provides invaluable services to those who seek out the shelter each day.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that all employees at non-essential businesses across the state stay at home, Rotunda said he received reassurance that UCAN City Mission could keep its doors open.

He said he wants to spread the word that the shelter is indeed open and capable of accepting men in need of a place to stay.

Anticipating a possible influx of shelter-seekers, Rotunda said 10 cots have been obtained for the 7 W. First St. location, bringing the total number of beds to 29 when needed.

“We have the accommodations,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day place with a bed to sleep in and a place to wash.”

At St. Susan Center, the organization has found itself scaled back as the state has implemented a social distancing policy aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus — a pandemic that has resulted in thousands of death across the globe.

With the possibility of a recession in the near future, some organizations such as St. Susan Center are keeping an eye on the fluid situation that might result in a bump in those seeking food.

“We are certainly good at problem-solving,” said Bonny Scott-Sleight, executive director of the Jamestown soup kitchen.

Beginning this week, St. Susan Center temporarily suspended its volunteer program due to safety concerns for staff. The dining room at the soup kitchen’s Water Street home has been closed, and instead daily bagged lunches are being distributed during normal business hours.

One meal earlier this week consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich, carrots, a fruit cup, water and fruit juice. Scott-Sleight said she heard a few complaints from those looking for desserts and cut fruit, items that were previously prepared by a group of volunteers.

“Unfortunately, that’s where we always had our volunteers,” she said.

At Meals on Wheels of the Jamestown Area, Executive Director Barrie Yochim said operations have not yet been impacted by the virus. “We’re still delivering where we normally deliver,” Yochim said. “The potential of the virus has not caused a problem with our deliveries for the Meals on Wheels.”

Yochim said the organization, which provides hundreds of meals daily to residents in southern Chautauqua County, has a close relationship with the county Office for the Aging, and with the closing of the congregate meal program Monday, some adjustments to deliveries have been made.

“By closing those sites there is the opportunity, a potential, that we will start seeing those individuals come on our meal service program for our home delivery meals,” he said.

Around 8 a.m. during the weekday, a small army of volunteers pick up the prepared meals and deliver them to the group’s distribution area.

“Why we have Meals on Wheels is for three reasons,” Yochim said. “No. 1 is providing the food. A lot of these individuals we know are getting Meals on Wheels because they can’t get out of their apartment, out of their home, out of where they live. If there was no Meals on Wheels they would be having trouble trying to fill the nutritional need. That’s why we’re there.

“The other two parts of it, of course, is the communication and socialization — we get to see them every day. Third part of it, and we’ve used it a lot these last several years, is making sure to call for emergencies in case something happens.”

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