Home Diocesan News Helping out is way of life for Cortland St. Robert parishioner
Helping out is way of life for Cortland St. Robert parishioner Print E-mail
Written by Thomas Anderson, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 06 April 2018 14:57

BAZETTA TWP. – It’s the fourth Wednesday of the month at the Cortland Area Cares food pantry warehouse. About 40 volunteers are packaging up and handing out food to 200-plus families in need.

Directing the operation is Donna Kittle from Cortland St. Robert Parish. She has been president of the organization for the last six years and a volunteer for the pantry during the last 15 years.

It may look chaotic on distribution day but it is all very organized. Recipients come to a desk to register. Then they line up in their cars and wait their turn for volunteers to load items into their trunks and they drive away. The number of items depends on how big the family is. Items may include canned goods, frozen meat, cereal, snacks, cookies, juice or bottled water, baked goods and fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I wanted to scream when my kids left home,” Kittle said. “I needed to find something with a purpose.” She discovered that helping a pantry acquire donated or low-cost food, packaging it up and distributing it to people was a perfect role for her.

“It is just fun,” said Kittle. “I love shopping for good bargains.”

For the pantry, shopping for bargains means driving a truck to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Youngstown once a week and helping to load it, then driving back to Cortland and unloading the contents into the warehouse on Fowler Street. The pantry gets most of its food from Second Harvest. Other items come from donations and food drives by schools and community organizations such as the Lions, Rotary and Optimist clubs.

As president, Kittle said she puts in eight hours or more on distribution day, plus the time it takes to acquire food and do her monthly report. She said she will sometimes drop off excess items at Cortview Village, a senior apartment complex, or at a mobile home park. Other volunteers spend as much time as they want, most of them working two-hour shifts or more. There is also a distribution for senior citizens on the second Wednesday of each month.

Potential volunteers find out about donating their time from a variety of sources, she said. “People contact me after seeing about us on social media or find out about us from their churches,” Kittle said.

She said she has a long history of volunteering. For 12 summers, she and her family hosted a child from the Children of Chernobyl Project. Founded in 1991, the program brings children from Belarus (whose citizens continue to be affected by the 1987 nuclear power plant explosion in the former U.S.S.R.), to live for a few weeks with families around the world, in an attempt to boost their immune systems and help in other ways.

She also delivered lunches for Trumbull Mobile Meals for 17 years and was a sacristan at St. Robert’s.

Kittle’s husband, Michael, helps out at the pantry, especially during the winter when his lawn-care business is not so busy. Their grown children, Lindsay Slezak and Jon Kittle, also offer their time once in a while.

To someone who wants to get started volunteering, Kittle said she recommends choosing anything that interests them. “Take a little initiative to find something,” she suggested.

Schools need adults to read or tutor students, she added, and groups such as St. Vincent de Paul need volunteers as well.

Cortland Area Cares began more than 30 years ago, when a group of laypersons from local Churches decided a food pantry was needed.

It serves people in the Lakeview School District (Cortland and Bazetta) and is under the direction of the Lakeview Outreach and Fellowship (LOAF), an inter-faith organization of seven local Churches. It started in a small room of one of the Churches and served 38 families. It has grown to serve 235 families or more each month.


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