By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — A building in the heart of the Lumber City that serves as a lifeline for the financially challenged has seen better days.
Under the umbrella of the Twin Cities Community Outreach, three non-profit groups including the North Tonawanda Meals on Wheels, the Inter-Church Food Pantry and the Twin Cities Clothes Closet are oftentimes a last stop for those struggling to get by.
But the building where the organizations are centered, along Ridge Road behind the high school, is in poor condition, and the dozens of volunteers who come each day to run the operations in it are feeling the effects of the long and frigid winter months.
After raising its prices in November by 50 cents to make ends meet, the North Tonawanda Meals on Wheels — run by a nearly all-volunteer force of approximately 120 individuals and four paid staff members, who delivers one to two meals each day to 110 largely elderly residents of the Twin Cities — is attempting to come to terms with the elements, with wind often whipping through the front door and into the remainder of the structure.
That structure, however, has come a long way from it early days. Those who have been involved recalled having water pouring through the roof just after the building that was acquired in 1973 for just $1, though despite many improvements, trouble still remains.
“Every time we open our door we get a blast of cold air throughout our building,” said Paul Gerlach, a volunteer with Meals on Wheels since 2004, after retiring as a high school elementary principal.
Susan Hittle, president of the North Tonawanda Meals on Wheels, said that the only way the organization can function is through the generosity of others, as the $6 fee charged to recipients who get the meals is not enough to sustain the program. That leaves donations collected during four major fundraisers throughout the year to make up the difference.
Hittle said that many of those who receive two meals a day, five days a week for that price and live on a fixed income would often be unable to maintain their independence without the program, which does not receive any government funding to supplement itself.
“We don’t charge enough to meet all of our operating expenses and donations and the fundraising process throughout the year help close that gap,” she said.
The organization said they are currently working on adding a baffle to to front door area in order to block the wind that often sails throughout the building, in through the volunteer area, the kitchen and into offices.
A donation made by Greg Doel, owner of Crazy Jakes, made that process a little easier on Wednesday when a $750 check was dropped off for the organization, half of which came from his employees during a recent holiday party that was matched by Doel.
“Basically it’s just that time of year where a lot of families need a little help getting through the trying months of the winter,” he said, of the timing of the contribution.
And With a stagnant economy in Western New York for decades, and a shrinking populace in both of the Twin Cities, those kind of actions are increasingly important, Hittle said, while adding that the benefits it has for the residents who receive the meals most days are just as pertinent.
“Without the support of the community, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.