Charities in Potsdam, Canton feel strain of high unemployment during holiday season
Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 8:16 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

As high unemployment and low incomes continue to plague the county, charitable organizations in Canton and Potsdam are facing a growing number of people in need.

Catherine Mathews, who runs the Canton Church and Community Program, said last year’s gift tree provided presents to about 70 families. This year, she said the number of families has grown to 200.

“A lot of people need help this year,” she said,

In Potsdam, Holiday Fund Director Pam Yugartis said she still has applications coming in. Last year the Holiday Fund provided gifts to 520 kids in 320 families throughout nine communities.

She said she has already received 330 applications this year and expects to see more before the holiday arrives.

Mathews said the demographics of those in need have changed.

“These aren’t just people who don’t have jobs. A lot of these people are working part-time or working two jobs, but they just don’t make enough money for the extras,” she said. “There a lot of people that can’t afford to pay their taxes. We are seeing a lot more of the working poor in need of help this year.”

Despite the growing need, Mathews said the community has answered the call.

“It’s discouraging that so many more people need help. But it’s also encouraging to see people willing to help. Our need has more than doubled, but so has the help,” she said.

Mathews said the need for food hasn’t grown as much. She said the program provides families with holiday meal packages each year and the number of people receiving meals has stayed pretty steady.

Like Mathews, Yugartis said the Holiday Fund has been supplemented by community support.

“There are a lot of new names this year. We are seeing more young families just trying to get by that are coming to us, said Yugartis.”

“It really is awesome to see the community response. There is definitely a growing need out there and people are willing to help us meet it.”

Yugartis said the county’s high unemployment rate is contributing to the growth, but another problem is that many families that do work aren’t paid well enough to provide for their families.

Daisy Cox runs the Potsdam Neighborhood Center, which works closely with the Holiday Fund to ensure they aren’t duplicating efforts around the holiday season. She said Yugartis handles the bulk of the increased holiday need, but the Neighborhood Center is still busy this time of year.

“I have to say there is increased need in Potsdam area. We are very fortunate that the Potsdam Holiday Fund has evolved into such a great organization and we are able to work with them to provide extra help,” she said.

At the neighborhood center, Cox said they have been able to provide food to people in need, but the need for donations is constant.

“We saw our unemployment rate drop a little bit but there is still a large amount of unemployment in St. Lawrence County. There is also a huge number of under-employed people working part time jobs or seasonal employees who don’t have work in the winter,” she said.

Cox said the high transportation costs and the need to commute for work also complicates the employment problem in St. Lawrence County.

“The need seems to grow every year,” she said.

Canton Neighborhood Center Director Lisa VanKirk said food pantry shelves swell one day and shrink the next as the center receives steady traffic

“It comes in and goes right back out,” she said. “We have definitely been busy this year. Times are tough.”

A list of St. Lawrence County Neighborhood Centers follows: Canton - 386-3541, Ogdensburg - 393-5561, Colton - 262-3175, Parishville - 265-6180 Gouverneur - 287-3370, Potsdam - 265-3920, Massena - 764-0050, Pierrepont - 386-8311.