PEEKSKILL, N.Y. — Jeanne Blum believes service is in her genes. “You return to your roots in many ways,” says Blum, executive director of Jan Peek House in Peekskill. “I come from a family of very strong service.”
But Blum says that if someone had told her 20 years ago that she would be working in this field, she would have been surprised. With a background in journalism and advertising, Blum had her own business in New York City that worked with not-for-profits, strengthening their brands and marketing positions.
After a combination of events, including 9-11, changed the focus of her clientele, Blum began volunteering at Jan Peek House in 2003. She knew the shelter well, because her father was an original founding member in 1988. “They hooked me in, and in 2007, I became the executive director.”
Blum explains the programs and the needs of the community. She looks at Jan Peek House as a community, which sets the tone for all that it does. “Part of my message is to change the perception of homelessness and do away with the stigma,” she said.
The 19-bed facility provides housing for single men and women who are homeless and also has emergency drop-in beds. Jan Peek had several food programs in place, but Blum saw a growing need for a regular food pantry. “There were a lot of families in Peekskill that were accessing food pantries in the surrounding areas. … We opened Fred’s Pantry.”
Calling it a “labor of love,” Blum explains how Jan Peek and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church joined forces. “They provide the space and volunteer capital. The congregation has been great, and Mother Carlye Hughes is wonderful.”
Fred’s Pantry opened in February 2010 and has been open weekly Saturdays for about a year. Blum says the 10,000 people from Cortlandt and Peekskill who accessed the pantry last year “puts in perspective the need in our community. … That is just a drop in the bucket for our area.”
Blum sums up her job, saying, “I truly believe people need advocates. People need champions. Sometimes you just need a champion to help you get over that hump. ... Some of our clients here are volunteers. We also have hired some of our ex-clients who have really progressed and want to give back.”
To donate, visit www.janpeekhouse.org/donate.html.