During a winter season with record snowfalls, demand rose considerably in the crisis and community services division at Community Missions, located in downtown Niagara Falls.
The organization saw a 24 percent increase in demand for its crisis housing, including a sobering 156 percent increase in nights of shelter given to children during the first three months of 2014, as compared to the first quarter of 2013. CMI provided 3,091 nights of shelter within its crisis housing programs during the first quarter of 2014, compared to 2,502 over the same time period in 2013. When considering those under the age of 12, the Mission provided a total of 420 nights of shelter during the first three months of 2014, compared to just 164 in 2013.
The increased demand for nights of shelter to children has been a yearlong trend. Comparing the just-completed 12-month period to the year previous shows a 56 percent increase in nights provided to those under the age of 12. In fact, 10 of the past 12 months have seen CMI provide at least 100 nights of shelter to children, compared to just four of the previous 12 months.
"The increase in nights provided to children is really the combination of a number of factors," said Grant Babcock, director of crisis services at Community Missions. "The length of stay is probably the largest factor. It used to be that we never had families stay for longer than a month. Now, though, it can take three or four months for families to get re-established."
Also rising were the total meals provided through the Mission's programs. The agency provided 15,853 meals during the first quarter of 2013, while this year the total rose to 17,308 - a 9 percent increase. The largest increase occurred in the food pantry program, which grew by 14 percent, while meals in the community soup kitchen fell by 7 percent.
The below-freezing temperatures and record snowfalls are once again a factor when considering the decreased demand within the soup kitchen. Transportation is often limited or non-existent for many of the program's guests, leading to decreased demand on particularly bitter days. Another, more promising factor, is related to an increase in offerings by the food pantry program.
"The relationship between the soup kitchen and food pantry totals is what we like to see," Babcock said. "We want to provide the resources for people to cook and eat at home, and these numbers show that is happening. Thanks to the contributions of our community partners, we have been able to give out more meat and produce this year through the food pantry, which seems to have helped to decrease demand in the soup kitchen."
The crisis and community services division of Community Missions is comprised of several programs, including the community soup kitchen, emergency housing shelter, food pantry, clothes closet, Mark's Place and parole re-entry. Community Missions is the largest private provider of basic human needs within Niagara County.
As much as 98 percent of the funds necessary to operate the crisis services division comes directly from individual and corporate donations, grant support from foundations, and fundraising events.
Those interested in learning more about the agency, or donating to its mission, are encouraged to visit www.CommunityMissions.org, or call 716-285-3403.
Community Missions has provided the Niagara community with a wide range of vital services since 1925.