Homless shelter plants garden

Abby Thorborg and Brittany M. stand in front of the garden at the Tioga County Homeless Initiative in Whitneyville.

CHARLESTON TOWNSHIP — In spite of the restrictions and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 virus, the Tioga County Homeless Initiative, at 2580 Charleston Road, is moving forward with new programs and projects.

The TCHI house can host 16 residents, and is currently serving eight adults and four children.

Abby Thorborg, director, said, “It is difficult; we are always together. We can get short with each other; the anxiety and stress affect everyone. But everyone is trying.”

To provide a safe outdoor space for children to play, Lowe’s of Mansfield donated material and labor for a small playground. There is an additional fenced play space near the house where, Thorborg said, “They can be near adults and interact, but it’s also safe enough for them to play alone.”

Another positive development is the installation of a semi-trailer, which has been outfitted with electricity and stocked with refrigerators and freezers. Thorborg says, “There is absolutely no space left in the house, and we can store perishables in there as well as canned and boxed food.” The trailer was donated by Stager’s Salvage Yard.

TCHI has also recently hired its first-ever part-time staff member, Helen Connor Graves. Graves is a social services caseworker who assists residents with various needs; an anonymous donor provided the funding for her position. Graves, in cooperation with Health and Human Services, Wellspring, local mental health professionals and the TCHI board, will this week launch the Supportive Living Program. This venture assists residents with mental health challenges as they transition to independent housing.

“This is really needed,” said Thorborg. “We see too many return residents who lack support.”

Due to health restrictions, the local church groups that have, for years, routinely provided TCHI with meals, food supplies and visitation have been asked to not enter the facility. A recent call for food items yielded generous results from the community, but Thorborg noted, “We are feeding our residents three times a day. Things can go quick. Right now we need meat – roasts, hams, hamburger. We do not need chicken.”

Clothing is also not needed, but cleaning supplies are in very short supply, particularly disinfectant wipes and bleach.

Vegetables, however, are in abundance at TCHI. Local volunteer C.P. Foster oversees TCHI’s private garden, and is assisted by various residents.

“We have potatoes, squash, onions, two kinds of peas, corn, zucchini and beans,” said Brittany, a resident who enjoys the garden.

Thorborg notes that the garden makes a huge impact on the quality and quantity of meals at TCHI. She also pointed out that residents who receive food assistance often voluntarily contribute their personal funds to purchase groceries.

Locals wishing to donate needed items can drop them off at TCHI during business hours. Thorborg said that monetary donations are most useful; the grants that form the basis of TCHI’s funding are often for specific uses, and cannot be spent on various sundry needs.

To contribute, mail checks to 2580 Charleston Road, Mansfield, PA 16933. All contributions are tax deductible.