‘Angels’ come to rescue the city’s most impoverished citizens
By Tim Fenster
The poor and homeless of Buffalo know where they can go for help when the weather turns cold and their stomachs grumble with hunger.
Five evenings every week, Hearts for the Homeless’ mobile soup kitchen parks on Ellicott Street, behind the Buffalo and Erie County Library, to hand out food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, the mobile kitchen offers poor residents a sandwich, snacks and beverage, and from Oct. 1 to May 1, they also give out a hot meal, such as pasta and meatballs, beef stew, and chicken and rice.
Those seeking Hearts’ services needn’t prove they are homeless; all the volunteers ask is that they sign in and provide some very basic information.
“We don’t ask any questions. We just ask them to sign in and they can eat,” said Donna Blarr, office manager for Hearts.
On a typical night, the mobile soup kitchen serves between 40 and 70 people, with more typically coming out near the end of the month after some low-income residents have exhausted their public benefits. Volunteers also hand out toiletries and, during the winter months, much-needed warm clothing, including gloves, blankets, socks, jackets, gloves and hats.
If someone asks for an item that volunteers do not have stocked in the RV that serves as the mobile kitchen, they will often make a note to try and carry that item — or more of it — next time.
“It’s really helpful. If they weren’t here I don’t know what I would do. I’m blessed that they provide this service,” said Mike, who declined to provide his last name because some family members do not know he is homeless.
As dozens waited in line one cold December evening for warm food and clothing, one man in line, Angel Williams, said Hearts “keeps [our]] faith and inspiration going” and “have embraced us.”
‘They are Angels’
Another, Jim Harris, simply said, “They are angels.”
Nick Calandra, chief operating officer of Hearts, said the organization was founded in 1990 with a mission to provide a steady stream of food and basic necessities for the region’s chronically homeless.
“We wanted to continue to do it and not have it be an on-off thing, because we knew there was a need out there,” Calandra said.
He added their efforts are particularly important during the winter months, when homelessness can be a struggle for survival.
Although there are shelters throughout the city, some homeless persons have mental or behavioral issues that prevent them from finding refuge. Others simply avoid shelters by choice.
“We see a lot of times people are just trying to fight it out and survive the winter,” Calandra said.
Hearts also helps the city’s impoverished through its thrift shop at 890 Tonawanda St. Blarr said all children’s items at the shop cost only $1, and they often give away clothes to families they know are in times of need.
“I get calls all the time from people who have fallen on hard times,” Blarr said. “We ask them a few questions and then let them come in and choose items.”
The thrift shop also provides Hearts with some revenue, but the organization is mostly funded through individual and corporate donations. They also accept donations of food, clothing and other basic necessities. Volunteers say that gloves, hats, socks, hoodies and jackets are particularly important and frequently asked for.
For more information, visit www.heartsforthehomeless.org.