By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — There won't be a soul in Niagara Falls that goes unfed this Thanksgiving if the volunteers from the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission have anything to say about it.
The 2-year-old Ferry Avenue mission, which fed about 600 with home-delivered meals last Thanksgiving, has upped the ante to 1,000 this year, and volunteers from churches around the region are joining the effort once again.
The little mission, which opened at 1023 Ferry Ave. as a homeless shelter for men, has a squadron of cooks and delivery staff at the ready for Thursday's effort. If the day goes anything like last year, the delivery makers will find some of their "guests" waiting at home with a table set for one.
"Last year we heard from our delivery people that they were told by so many 'you are the only person I'm going to see all day,' " said Janet Scott, who is directing "Feed the Falls."
Such an event doesn't go on without major orchestration.
Thus far, the volunteers have gathered for the cooking and carving of 50 turkeys at The Chapel in Amherst. On Wednesday, there will be a pie-making "party" at Niagara Community Church, 10500 Cayuga Dr., and on Thanksgiving, the hot meals will be assembled at Assembly of God on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
"We're serving not only physical food but spiritual food," said Shaun Smith, founder and volunteer director of the Niagara Gospel Mission, noting that each dinner comes with a child-made card in the shape of a turkey with a line from scripture written upon it.
For those who are surprised to learn of the Niagara Gospel Mission, Smith said that the 13-bed mission has been flying under the radar for the past six years, since he received the "vision" to open the place.
It began in October 2006, when he had planned to join a group of people meeting the director of the Buffalo City Mission to discuss the needs of the homeless in Niagara Falls, but as it happened, he was the only one able to attend.
Driving to the Buffalo Mission alone that day, he remembers praying for God's guidance. During the meeting, the then City Mission director, Tom McLaughlin, pointed to him and said "maybe God wants you to start a mission in Niagara Falls."
Smith, who is a professional photographer, was blown away by McLaughlin's words, and remembers "feeling numb" on the drive home. "But within six months we started a steering board," he said, noting the board was comprised of members of his church, Forestview Church of God on Saunders Settlement Road.
The mission has since been serving a wide age range of men, he said, noting about half of the men served are fairly young. "I've got 19-year olds coming in here with needle marks all over his arms," he said.
"They come in here very broken. We get them stabilized, three hots and a cot," he said. In addition, those who come into the mission hear about the faith of its volunteers. "I talk to them a little bit about the Lord because they need supernatural help beyond what we can give them."
Over the course of the past two years, the mission's organizers settled on the "Feed the Falls" moniker, because, Smith noted, "we feed them spiritual bread too."
"I talk to them a little bit about the Lord because they need supernatural help beyond what we can give them."
Currently, the mission has 13 beds, serves about 1,700 free meals a month to any and all who come, and also offers a regular bible-based church service each day.
The mission also has a discipleship program for the homeless men who demonstrate they want to change their lives. There are currently three men in the Niagara Mission's discipleship program. In addition, there are four employed staff members who have been through similar discipleships in other mission.
Smith hopes his mission can attract community members looking for a way to serve. "We're a conduit for the local churches who (have members) want to work with the poor," he said.
He looked around at the house which holds the mission, including a long table set with chairs in the dining room, the kitchen busy with several volunteers cooking a meal, and several residents moving about the house or seated on the porch. "The light of the Lord shines best in the darkest places," he said with a smile, then he quoted from the sign that's often placed on the front lawn, advertising the feel daily meals: "... he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
To place an order for a Thanksgiving meal or for more information about the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission call 253-1463 or 282-0432, or visit online at www.niagaramissions.org.