SKANEATELES | Christopher Niebuhr, 14, is making sure young people starting out on their own have the tools they need to prepare a nutritious meal.
As a Boy Scout in local Troop 61, Christopher is working toward the highest rank possible, Eagle Scout. To obtain the ranking, he must complete a project that involves planning, execution, reporting, leading others while also being "helpful to any religious institution, any school" in the community.
His project aims to benefit young men, 18 to 22, participating in a Salvation Army program that helps them get on their feet. The men often use their financial resources to rent an apartment, and don't have any funds left over to equip a kitchen. His project also aims to help young women of the same age who face the same circumstances when they leave the Onondaga County Jail.
Since early January, Christopher worked on the project where he is building a community pantry or a closet he plans to fill with new and gently used kitchen items and household goods and supplies. The pantry is located in Syracuse's Park Central Presbyterian Church, at Fayette and Townsend streets.
So far he, with help from fellow Scouts, has cleaned out a former storage room of the church, painted it, bought and erected steel shelving units that are already filling with items.
"I'm glad to be able to help," the ninth-grader said.
He's able to share that feeling with fellow residents. A few weeks ago, Christopher set out cardboard boxes in an area of the First Presbyterian Church where parishioners visit over cups of coffee and tea after services. Before long, a table was added to support the boxes that were quickly filled with donations of pots and pans, cutlery sets, kitchen linens and dishes, blenders, electric coffee pots, bed linens and a ceiling fan.
"We're not going to turn down anything we can take because someone will need it," he said.
One donation came in the form of a sterling silver flatware service from a parishioner who recommended it be sold and the proceeds benefit Christopher's cause.
"That blew me away," he said.
His parents Margaret Usdansky and Gustav Niebuhr are proud that their son has created a project that serves a social good outside of the immediate Skaneateles area, they said.
"Our hope is that he'll get an appreciation of both how important and how difficult it is to help other people," Usdansky said.
He began his Scouting career in Cub Scout Troop 161 and became a Boy Scout in Troop 61 in the fifth grade. Now, he is a senior patrol leader and leads meetings, facilitates younger Scouts' attempts to advance from Tenderfoot through Star and Life ranking to Eagle and plans trips and outings.
His troop regularly camps in the Adirondacks and goes on whitewater rafting trips. Last summer they climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire and in a matter of days the Scouts are heading to Philadelphia to see the historic sites connected to the birth of the nation.
"We try to be as adventurous as we can," Christopher said.
Pursuing an Eagle Scout award can take months and sometimes longer, but Christopher aims to do so early as part of his plan.
"My thoughts are if I'm able to do this now," he said, "I'll be able to open myself up to more opportunities."
In addition to his Scouting work, he is an avid runner. Last fall he competed with the varsity boys cross country team, and will run long distance on the track team. And he loves music. He is an accomplished trombone player who plays out with the LeMoyne College jazz band and the high school jazz band, he would like to play in a pit band for one of the high school musicals, he said.
While he enjoys Scouting, it's more than a fun extra-curricular for him.
"Boy Scouts are all about service," Christopher said. "You're trained to help other people."