October 21, 2021

Bringing holiday cheer

Christmas dinners help people facing food insecurity

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Victoria Shevchuk, left, and Emily Levitski, right, of the Cortland Ukrainian Pentacostal Church, volunteer Friday afternoon at Grace and Holy Spirit Church in Cortland for the Loaves and Fishes annual Christmas meal by handing out gloves and hats to youths.

As volunteers scooped steaming potatoes, ham, green beans and more onto plates and handed them to people, a feeling of warmth spread Friday night across the crowded hall of Grace and Holy Spirit Church.

People began laughing, their bodies eased, smiles spread across their faces and people could be heard saying, “Mmmm,” as they tasted the food.

Holiday Cheer

What: Cortland County Salvation Army Christmas dinner
Time: 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday
Place: The Salvation Army of Cortland, 138 Main St.

Mike Schafer, a board member for Cortland Loaves and Fishes, will tell you not everybody in Cortland County can afford a hot meal every night.

“If people think there isn’t food insecurity in Cortland they’re fooling themselves,” Schafer said.

Nearly 5,800 people in Cortland County — more than one in eight people — are food insecure, according to HealtheCNY. They lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. It’s worse for kids: Almost 19 percent are food insecure, or almost 1,800 children.

Still, that’s down from 2013, when 13.6 percent of Cortland’s residents and 22.6 percent of its children weren’t always sure where their next meal was coming from.

People gather for a holiday meal Friday afternoon in the basement of Grace and Holy Spirit Church in Cortland. Loaves and Fishes serves the annual meal with volunteers at no charge.

Loaves and Fishes was hosting its annual Christmas dinner and by the end of the night the group had fed about 200 people, including Art and Robin Ptak of Cortland.

“It saves on the groceries and sometimes they have information that helps people,” Art Ptak said.

The program, which started in 1984, was modeled after Loaves and Fishes at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ithaca. The Cortland organization serves more than a 100 meals a day, according to its website.

Elise-May Huffman didn’t even realize it was the Christmas dinner event when she and her family of six arrived. Huffman explained that with a large family, food goes quicker than expected.

“It’s good to be able to come and get a hot meal,” she said.

“There’s been times where we’ve fallen down on hard times and not had something to eat and this place has helped us,” added Zipporah, Huffman’s daughter.

The organization also handed out food for people to take home, hats and gloves and gifts to kids.

“It’s the Christmas season so you just want to give people things,” volunteer Victoria Shevchuk said. “Some of the people don’t have hats, gloves or a hot meal, so it’s nice to see a lot of smiling faces here.”

Schafer said the one thing he encourages people to do is attend the dinner or volunteer and just take a few minutes to sit down with some of the people.

“You really get to know the people we serve,” Schafer said. “If you spend enough time in this parish hall, you’ll see some of the problems people in our community face. It makes me count my blessings.”