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Church & Community Program searching for new building

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CANTON — During the past 38 years, the Canton Church & Community Program has helped thousand of area families that have fallen on hard times.

Today, a growing number of people head to the food pantry each month because they’re having trouble making ends meet.

Each year, dozens of families rely on the agency for school supplies and holiday gifts for their children. The thrift shop offers reduced-price clothing.

Now, the not-for-profit agency is the one looking for help.

After searching for several months, the program’s board of directors has been unable to find a suitable building to house the agency.

By March 31, the program will have to move out of the 3,200-square-foot space it rents on the third floor of 95 Main St. The lower level there is occupied by St. Lawrence NYSARC, which owns the building and plans to expand into the upstairs space.

“We’re feeling pressure right now because we haven’t found a place to rent,” said Janet A. Stitt, chairwoman of the Church & Community Program’s Property Committee.

The agency’s board of directors hopes that someone in the community has a building they’d be willing to donate, rent or sell at a reasonable price.

“We’re like a lifeline to people,” Mrs. Stitt said. “We’re a not-for-profit that’s supplying food to those who need it most.”

During the past four months alone, enough food for 12,300 meals was distributed, according to the agency’s records.

The demand continues to grow. So far this year, enough food for 27,180 meals has been provided, more than double the 12,879 recorded for the first nine months of 2011.

Besides Canton, the program serves individuals and families from DeKalb, Russell, Hermon, Rensselaer Falls and Clare.

Mrs. Stitt said the committee has looked at about 25 different buildings that are available, but the agency cannot afford the rent prices being asked for many of the sites.

Some buildings are for sale, but the agency prefers to find a rental property.

“We’d like it to be in the village because some of our clients don’t have transportation,” Mrs. Stitt said.

Finding a building that is handicapped-accessible and also 3,000 square feet or larger has posed challenges, she said.

The agency’s director, Catherine E. Mathews, said she would like St. Lawrence County legislators to consider renting her some program space in the old county jail on Judson Street. Most of the jail is vacant.

She said she envisions having a multiuse, “drop-in” site that possibly could house other services, such as veterans outreach and cooking and nutrition classes, and offer a place where organic products from Birdsfoot Farm, 1263 County Route 25, could be sold.

“I think that would be a dream place to be. It could centralize a lot of services,” Ms. Mathews said.

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said the concept is interesting, but the county doesn’t have funds available to conduct a building-use study that would help determine renovation costs and other options for the site.

“I’m trying to see what other space might be available for them,” she said.

The Church & Community Program was established in 1974 and is run by six Canton churches: Unitarian Universalist, Grace Episcopal, St. Mary’s Catholic, United Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist and First Presbyterian. For more information, call the program at 386-3534

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