BUCKHANNON – The Upshur Cooperative Parish House and Crosslines, Inc. plans to expand its existing programs and place a new hub in southern Upshur County.
Executive director of the Upshur Cooperative Parish House Isaac Casto officially took over the duties of former director Kristi Wilkerson Oct. 1, but Casto is no stranger to the organization. In fact, Casto first became familiar with the Parish House 20 years ago, in 2003, when he was attending West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“I was doing my service hours here, starting with the summer home repair program, and then I stuck around and worked in the food pantry through the school year, so that was 2003 to 2006,” Casto said. “I went away, had a bunch of different jobs and career pathways, but came back to Buckhannon, and it has been so fortuitous and miraculous.”
Both he and his wife were teachers when COVID-19 hit, so he started helping the Parish House with the bookkeeping in the evenings in March 2022.
“Kristi [Wilkerson] and I had talked through that winter, and she thought the Parish House was in need of an assistant director,” Casto said. “She thought the programming we could offer could be greatly expanded with somebody else, so we had talked about that for a couple of months.”
“I agreed to start full time in June of 2023, and it just so happens Kristie had this opportunity to go help at Wesleyan in the Advancement Department, so she left July 1, and it was supposed to be to Oct. 1, but now we’ve learned that position has become permanent for her,” he added.
The programs available at the Parish House won’t change in a dramatic way anytime soon, but Casto said they are working to expand and enhance several of their services.
“We are opening the annex in Rock Cave, and there’s some maintenance that needs to be done to the building, so that’s the big thing going on, and we would like to extend our footprint here on College Avenue,” Casto said. “We’re going to be offering the same sorts of things, like our food pantry, and utility assistance will report out there (in Rock Cave), too.”
Casto also plans to increase opportunities for youth services through the Parish House.
“I grew up in a 4-H program, so service was something I started at a really young age; I feel like it can be really transformative, not only for the people doing the service but the community,” Casto said. “I think it’s a really powerful thing, so what I would like is to be able to get more youth groups involved through the Parish House — maybe not necessarily here, but being able to connect different groups and working as a hub.”
The Parish House has also started to expand some of its primary services, such as the food pantry.
“We’ve been offering dairy vouchers so people can get milk, eggs and things like that at the store, and we also were piloting something we’re calling a homeless care package,” Casto said. “People can come in and get stuff through our food pantry, but we don’t always have food that is easy to eat for someone that is unhoused, so we’re looking at how we can do that efficiently.”
The Wednesday and Friday lunches at the Parish House were brought back after COVID numbers decreased and became more popular than ever.
“I think when they started them back after COVID, they were having about 30 people, but I was looking at averages this morning, and we’re averaging about 70 a meal now,” Casto said. “Groups are coming in to do that; they’re volunteering their time, they’re taking care of the food, so it’s a big ask. It’s a big demand and we’re scaling up with it, but we’re always shocked at how big it’s getting.”
The meals begin at noon on Wednesdays and Fridays, and each group is told to prepare for 70 people.
“The Parish House is really important to me, so to be back is a very powerful moment, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity and support,” Casto said. “As far as I’ve known, the Parish House has always been greatly supported by the community. I’m in awe of how generous people are around here, so I’m appreciative of that, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do working together.”