From United Way: Heart, Love & Soul continues to be a lifeline for many Niagara County residents

Mark Baetzhold

Throughout 2020, the safety net services provided by Heart, Love & Soul and other community agencies supported by United Way of Greater Niagara have been lifelines to more and more people in need as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the virus swept through our community, and social and economic conditions deteriorated, Heart & Soul, with the support of United Way, continued providing meals and services to residents facing fewer opportunities, more barriers, and profound anxiety about their safety and their future.

Gratitude from our guests, and the sentiment expressed by many that they could not get by without us, drove home just how critically important it was to continue our mission to nourish all in need. And, as we watched the burdens of the pandemic disproportionately impact low-income residents and communities of color, our commitment for building a more just and equitable society pressed us ever more deeply into service and advocacy for and with our guests.

Despite difficult conditions and the closure of our building to guests for the majority of the year, Heart & Soul delivered tens of thousands of meals to families, seniors, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, people struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders, and anyone experiencing acute need. In the colder months at the start of the pandemic, our staff and volunteers worked outdoors during two-hour shifts to ensure the community would be fed. We coordinated with the Food Bank of WNY, Community Missions, other pantries, and other partners who labored heroically to ensure as best we could that all people in need were being fed. With the support of the United Way which provided not only funding but also face masks to distribute to guests, we helped keep residents safe as they navigated a new world struggling under the weight of Covid-19.

In November, after nearly eight months serving meals and groceries outside, we reopened so that guests could receive take-out meals and groceries in the warmth of our building. While we still look forward to the days when we can sit with our guests again and socialize as we break bread together, we have been blessed during this “soft” reopening with smiles (under masks), heartfelt gratitude, and resilient hopefulness. Today within our walls, in the brief encounters of delivering and receiving meals, flickers of light and glimpses of the community life to which we aspire press forward even now…especially now. Within our striving toward that community life, we not only provide 100,000 meals, 1,000 health care visits, and 250 housing referrals, we just as importantly provide respect, compassion, and the space to receive all people with abundant dignity.

In 2021, with the support of United Way, Heart & Soul is poised to help our community rebuild by providing additional services and coordinating resources to meet needs. The Sr. Beth Brosmer Center – aptly named after my recent predecessor for her tireless efforts – will open in January 2021 and house our Daybreak one-stop program, where residents may access public assistance, housing, health, employment, education, and other resources to stabilize and empower their lives. The beautiful 6,000-square foot, $2M building reflects our belief in the inherent dignity of the people we serve, and it is a fitting testament to the legacy of Sr. Beth Brosmer, Sr. Marygrace Polino, Sr. Diane Bernbeck, Sr. Louise Gallahue, Sr. Barbara Pfohl, and many more who lived out their deep faith in service to others in Niagara Falls.

Sr. Beth believed that working collaboratively to meet the needs in our community was key to building a more responsive, compassionate, and dynamic Niagara Falls. In 2021, Heart, Love & Soul will carry on that work, with United Way of Greater Niagara and so many partners helping us move forward toward a better future.

Mark Baetzhold is executive director at Heart, Love & Soul. To learn more, please call (716) 282-5687 or visit heartloveandsoul.org.

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