NIAGARA FALLS -- You could say that Carol Palumbo, of Lewiston, helps to perform the local "loaves-and-fishes" miracle, but as family development and nutrition coordinator at the Niagara Community Action Program, she has a bit more than five loaves and two fishes to work with.
Her agency -- a federal, state and locally funded nonprofit -- works in partnership with the Food Bank of Western New York as a point of distribution to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Niagara County.
About 1.4 million pounds of food is sorted and distributed to county food providers annually, and yet the need continues with the county's high unemployment rate.
Palumbo, in 1997, was among a group of select Family Support workers across the state to receive their Family Development Credential from Cornell University. She received her trainer certification the next year from Cornell so she could provide the credential to other human service providers in Niagara County.
>Tell us more about what you do?
I oversee three Neighborhood Centers, located in Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda. We provide emergency food and clothing at all centers.
We also provide emergency shelter and utility payments, budget counseling, employment case management, nutrition education, food stamp outreach, parenting education and Client Choice for food pantry recipients.
>What's Client Choice?
Client Choice provides families with the ability to choose nutritionally sound food choices for their families and also provides parenting education where families seek and secure solutions to many of the problems they face, and helpful tips in food preparation.
>Would you give us an example of that?
Families on a limited budget tend to think that prepared foods are an inexpensive option -- when in actuality they're not. Our Client Choice Nutrition Education Program educates families by providing nutritious, economic recipes for meals from scratch that don't take a great deal of time.
>What kind of meals?
Chilli, stews, soups, to mention a few -- and you can control the fat content and salt. The families learn a great deal, like nutritional value, calories-per-serving, which are on all of the recipe pages that are distributed.
>How did you get into this line of work?
I began as an outreach worker at our Neighborhood Center in Lockport.
Through Community Action, I was able to become part of a network of people dedicated to supporting families in need. I've been a member of the staff for nearly 20 years -- in my current position since 2000.
>How do you like your job?
I've been involved in this line of work because, for me, it's not just employment -- it's the families I've met and have been able to assist, even if it was just to listen.
>You've mentioned your Family Development services -- what's that?
Family Development is a philosophy where the worker and family enter into a partnership and develop a plan that will take a family in crisis and work with their strengths.
>How about the family you were raised in?
I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, growing up as part of a close-knit family with my parents, two brothers and one sister. I attended Catholic schools.
I've often heard parents lament that family time and communication can be difficult. In my personal experience, we may not have had much as I was growing up, but the family meal was important. We were each given the opportunity to talk about our day during dinner. I felt respected and loved.
>Tell us about other available services?
Other programs and services offered by Niagara Community Action Program include Child Care Resource and Referral, Weatherization Program, Emergency Home Repair Program, CACFP Program and the Registrar's Program for support, assistance and inspection to insure that child care providers are registered and licensed.
>What does CACFP stand for?
CACFP is the Child and Adult Care Food Program. CACFP provides funding so child care providers can be trained in good nutrition practices and provide children age 12 and younger nutritious and well-balanced meals.
>What's changed over the past two decades?
There's been an increase in the number of working families seeking services at our agency and at other helping agencies as well, over the past 20 years.
One thing has remained constant. No matter how the economic picture has declined, Niagara County has the most giving and supportive people. Wherever there's a need, the residents of Niagara County step up to support each other.
>How can people help?
Donations are gratefully accepted at all Neighborhood Center's offices. People can call our administrative offices at 285-9681, 433-6632 (Lockport) or 282-4375 (Niagara Falls).
Have an idea about a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column, or an issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.