When a prayer group at Sacred Heart Church in Niagara Falls began collecting and distributing food in the early 1980’s it was to address a specific need in the community – food insecurity. What began as parishioners looking out for others has now grown into an anchor organization in Niagara Falls that operates as a comprehensive non-profit hunger-relief and social care agency dedicated to serving those in need, with a focus on body, mind, and soul. For many, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is a lifeline to food and social services, providing community and dignity during what may be the most difficult time in a client’s life.
Niagara Falls residents can rely on a hot meal from Heart Love & Soul, located on Ontario Avenue, and take advantage of their food pantry to stock up on necessities for home, including personal care items that are often expensive and not covered by SNAP benefits, such as toilet paper, laundry detergent, and more. The dining room is now open again, after having only a take-out option for the length of the pandemic, welcoming residents with a returning sense of community as well as a hot meal.
The organization goes beyond simply feeding those in need. It has expanded its partnerships with the community and other social service agencies to link residents with services that can help them. The Daybreak Program, supported by the Oishei Foundation and offered in their new, expanded facility completed in 2020, brings together social service providers in one place to assist the organization’s clients with services specific to their needs. The “one-stop-shop” approach allows for more efficient and effective outreach, making it far easier for the individual to learn about and receive services that can help them all in one place. The on-site agencies also minimize barriers many people have with mobility and accessing transportation necessary to visit individual agencies that can be time-consuming, expensive, and out of reach.
The beautiful new wing, the Sr. Beth Brosmer Center housing the Daybreak Program, includes private office space so social service providers can meet with clients who are stopping in for meals or visiting the food pantry. It also offers showers, a place to do laundry, and a welcoming community space for clients to relax while they wait for their laundry to finish or for their appointment with social care staff. The comfortable environment and the shower and laundry facilities help clients refresh and maintain a sense of dignity as they navigate difficult periods in life. An estimated 1,500 people are served by the organization in some capacity, according to Mark Baetzhold, Executive Director of Heart, Love & Soul. “Those who need meals or pantry items are likely struggling with poverty and a host of other issues related to poverty including housing, jobs, literacy, and other issues. The Daybreak Program was developed to help address a multitude of needs in a way that makes it easier to learn about and take advantage of services without stigma and without the difficulty of having to seek out individual service agencies,” commented Baetzhold.
Heart, Love & Soul is not done expanding. This summer, the nonprofit will partner with Grassroots Gardens to create a community garden adjacent to their building. While the garden will supply some healthy food items to the kitchen, it will also be used as a therapy garden, giving clients a chance to relax, de-stress, and enjoy nature to nourish their souls through gardening. Heart, Love & Soul truly lives up to its mission of feeding those in need- body, mind, and soul.