BUCKHANNON – The new director of the Upshur Cooperative Parish said the organization needs to improve communication with county residents about its mission, what it does and who it serves.
Executive Director Isaac Casto came to see the commissioners to brief them on the Parish House’s 2022 statistics and its mission.
Hired as the assistant director in June 2023, Casto was appointed full-time director when former executive director Kristi Wilkerson accepted an administrative position at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The Upshur Cooperative Parish’s new mission statement, Casto said, is “to work together as neighbors to help one another thrive.”
“We realized within the last year, as we’ve gone through strategic planning, that we are not always great at communicating what it is we do and how we do it, so we’re trying to get better at that,” Casto said. “We know that to continue our mission and to continue our growth, we need to bring people with us. That’s what we do; it’s about community-building, it’s about relationship-building.”
The Crosslines Help Desk provides food packages and holiday food boxes, personal hygiene and cleaning supplies, assistance with rent and utility bills, clothing and dairy vouchers and weekly lunches. In addition, the Clothes Closet offers clothing, holiday decorations, seasonal deals and household items/furniture.
Casto emphasized the nondenominational nature of the organization.
Although the Parish House is one of the seven mission projects of the United Methodist Church, it was established in 1992 as a space for anyone in need.
“We were set up to be a communal space, really not beholden to any denomination or belief,” he said. “I think that’s what we should be, and that’s what we’re striving to be still, and I’m afraid that gets lost sometimes.”
Reviewing the Parish House’s 2022 impact, Casto said when he started a couple of years ago, the Parish House saw about 20 people or families a day.
“Now, it’s pretty common to have 30-plus a day,” he said. “We’re seeing about 100 families a week coming through the door, and then we’re giving food packages monthly to them, so there’s just a tremendous amount of food coming in and going out of the Parish House to families in need.”
People must meet TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) income requirements because the Parish House receives commodities from Mountaineer Food Bank.
In 2022, the Crosslines Help Desk supplied $63,000 in utility bill assistance to more than 860 families.
“Some of those we see a couple of times a year, and it’s sad to say, but [we’re seeing] the generational aspect of that,” Casto said. “We are within the budgeting and planning that some of these families do, so we’re kind of a necessity for them.”
The entity is on track to surpass that this year.
“I can tell you this year, we are about 20 percent ahead of that,” he said. “By the end of September, we were already at $53,000, so if those trends hold, we’re looking at close to $75,000 to $80,000 coming of the door from the Parish House.”
Casto said the Parish House is almost entirely donor-driven.
“I always say that we live in a very generous and a very giving community to be able to do these sorts of things, but needs seem to be growing. With the change in SNAP benefits and inflation at the grocery stores, people are struggling, and we are kind of the stopgap to fill in those blanks.”
In 2022, the Parish House distributed about 800 Thanksgiving meal packages, but Casto estimated that will increase to about 900 in 2023. The organization also provides a carryout meal for people on Christmas.
Commission president Kristie Tenney asked what the Parish House’s current greatest need is, and Casto said nonperishable items – like corn and green beans – that could be placed in both Christmas carryout meals and stocked in the regular pantry. Monetary donations also help.
Tenney suggested that the City of Buckhannon and Upshur County Commission square off in a friendly competition to see which entity could collect the most nonperishable goods by noon on Nov. 30.
“Maybe we should have a good friendly competition with our friends down the street to be able to collect some nonperishables for the Parish House; what are your thoughts on that?” she asked commissioners Sam Nolte and Doug Bush.
“Oh, I look forward to the challenge,” Bush replied.
The Parish House/Crossline, located at 68 College Avenue, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and also on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Follow the Upshur Cooperative Parish on Facebook, call 304-472-0743 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.