CSO director: More agencies means better chance against poverty issue
SHAMOKIN - The initial meeting of an ad hoc consortium to streamline resources for Northumberland County's poor citizens drew 26 people from 18 state and county agencies and area nonprofit groups.
Gale Zalar, community action director of Central Susquehanna Opportunities (CSO), was excited by Wednesday's strong turnout, saying no one agency can tackle poverty alone.
"We feel the individual will do better if the family does better. The family will do better if the community does better," Zalar said during Wednesday's meeting at a CSO conference room at the career and arts center.
Nearly 15 percent of individuals living in Northumberland County are at or below the national poverty level, including 11 percent of senior citizens and 22 percent of minors.
Carmine Picarelli, Northumberland County's mental health program director, said he was surprised at the statistics, taken from U.S. Census Bureau data - not because they were particularly shocking, but because he figured they'd be higher.
The Health and Human Services Department publishes guidelines for the poverty level. It's $11,670 for a single adult, $15,730 for a family of two and $23,850 for a family of four. Between utilities, food and rent, Picarelli said he couldn't imagine how people get by at the poverty level.
"I think it's much worse than what the numbers are portraying," he said of the county's poverty rates.
Karen Leonovich, deputy administrator of the county's Area Agency on Aging, said the needs for residents 60 years and above are changing. Home care is still a necessity, she said, but now more than ever there's a need for money and clothing. The agency has long handled issues with prescription medication, but it's now encountering issues with heroin and other illicit drugs.
Mandy Wagner, director of social services for the county's Children and Youth Services, said the agency serves between 250 and 300 families. The latest count shows there are 156 children in out-of-home placement.
Other attendees included representatives of the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, American Red Cross, local churches and Transitions of Pennsylvania.
CSO coordinated creation of the coalition. Zalar said its scope will be all of Northumberland County, and it will begin by meeting monthly and potentially breaking into subcommittees.
A well-received suggestion was to create a directory of all coalition members and services offered by their agencies. When someone is in need of help, coalition members will have quicker and direct access to specific services.
The Rev. Rose Marquardt stressed that the coalitions won't be successful unless its members are easily able to coordinate and share information.
The next meeting will be held Sept. 10 at the CareerLink in Sunbury.