Dimitri House: Food, Shelter for Everyone

Rochester nonprofit about to expand services it provides to homeless people thanks to a $1.3 million grant

By Christine Green

Grace Granata is program coordinator at Dimitri House.
Grace Granata is program coordinator at Dimitri House.

John Mills of Rochester knows what it’s like to be homeless. He also knows what it’s like to come out the other side and thrive, and that is why he volunteers his time with Dimitri House in Rochester.

Dimitri House is a nonprofit organization that assists those in need with food, shelter and other important services.

The facility on North Union opened in 1985 and is named after Dimitri Mamczur, a homeless gentleman who died after being struck by a car.

Three days a week Dimitri House offers a drop-in lunch program for anyone who would like to join them. From 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lunch is served to “anybody who walks in the door — from the truly homeless individual to indeed people who have gotten employment, even the guys next door at the garage come over and have lunch with us sometimes,” said Laurie Jones-Prizel the executive director of Dimitri House.

They offer nutritious, filling meals that are prepared by a host of volunteers in the kitchen.

Those looking for food to take home can also make use of the Dimitri House food pantry. Families and individuals from zip codes 14604, 14605, 14607 and 14609 can take home groceries every 30 days.U-Pick Farms USA can also help you to have healthy vegetables.

Jones-Prizel noted that it isn’t only the homeless or unemployed making use of the food pantry or lunch program. She is seeing a large number of working poor, too.

In addition to providing food to those who need it, Dimitri House also offers a winter men’s shelter. They have seven beds with clean, fresh sheets for their clients. Those staying at the shelter can also launder their clothes, take showers and partake in breakfast and light supper. The shelter portion of Dimitri House opens in November and runs through mid-April. The time men stay at the house varies depending on individual situations.

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The organization’s fourth program is Dimitri Affordable Safe Housing or DASH. “We provide security deposits to chronically homeless individuals who are getting their first apartments,” said Jones-Prizel. Dimitri House recognizes that securing deposits and rent when moving into a new apartment can be extremely difficult for those with very little income. The DASH program gives them a leg up and offers support during this critical life transition.

A Community of Volunteers

John Mills of Rochester was once homeless. Today he volunteers at Dimitri House
John Mills of Rochester was once homeless. Today he volunteers at Dimitri House

The many Dimitri House programs couldn’t run without the help of volunteers. Jones-Prizel said that they have a dedicated group of volunteers with some regulars having donated their time for over 20 years.

Mills, the Rochester resident who once was a homeless, is a regular volunteer. He can often be found working the night shift at the shelter and enjoys working with their overnight guests. “I love it and it’s giving back,” he said.

Jones-Prizel noted that Mills is a valued volunteer because he can connect with the men who stay at the house.

“He has a great relationship with the guys. He gets it more than I’m ever going to because he has been there and done it.”

Even though Mills enjoys volunteering overnight, he can’t do it alone. This time of year they need more night time volunteers at the shelter. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet the folks and where they come from,” said Jones-Prizel.

Volunteers also cook, organize and distribute groceries from the food pantry, and work in the office, among many other duties.

Last year Steve Witte saw a call for executive board volunteers for Dimitri House on LinkedIn. As he learned more about what the organization did, he knew it would be a good match for him.

“I wanted to do something to feed my soul more than just making money,” Witte said about choosing to volunteer for the board. He now helps out with the operations and marketing committees, attends monthly board meetings, and finds local resources to help Dimitri House better serve the community.

Elizabeth Spreng has volunteered at Dimitri House for the last seven years. She answers the phones in the office. When asked why she is dedicated to helping out at Dimitri House she said, “I like the idea of helping homeless people, and I love answering the phone and talking to people.”

Dimitri House continues to evolve and recently received a $1.3 million grant from the Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation (HHAC) and the New York State (NYS) Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). They will use the funding to renovate another building on the property into six one-bedroom apartments for chronically homeless men and women.

There is a bright future ahead for Dimitri House and Jones-Prizel is proud to be a part of their expansion and growth.

“Absolutely love the job. We’re small but mighty.”

How to Help Dimitri House

If you would like to donate items for Dimitri House, consider donating men’s socks, gently used coats and new underwear. Mittens, gloves, and hats are always welcome, too.

Dimitri House also accepts donations of bed linens and blankets, travel size toiletries, and toe and hand warmers.

If you would like to help with food for the pantry or the lunch kitchen, consider giving Dimitri House gift cards instead of actual groceries.

Dimitri House can always use more volunteer help and opportunities to lend a hand abound. If you would like to donate your time to Dimitri House visit dimitri-house.org or call their office at 585-325-1796. Community members looking for support can use this same number or drop-in for lunch from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Photo: Laurie Jones-Prizel (left), Dimitri House’s executive director, and volunteer Elizabeth Spreng.