Heart, Love & Soul in the Media

Feb 3, 2019

Heart Love and Soul, Part I: How a city food bank and soup kitchen was born

Thirty-year-old Falls facility was built on faith and canned goods
By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com Feb 3, 2019

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Some of the early volunteers who helped found the food pantry that grew into Heart, Love and Soul, included
standing from left, Shawn D'Luhy, Peggy Halliday and Joe Sparacio. Seated from left are Ann Baker, Judy Stanton, Joe
Mombrea and Mike Calvello. The photo is circa 1976.

When listening to some of the founders of Heart, Love and Soul, it's clear that much of the credit for its origins sprang from faith.
Joe Mombrea, one of the leaders who was there at the start of the food bank and soup kitchen now located on Ontario Avenue, was an atheist as a young man. "I felt very sorry for people who were that devoted," he said of the faithful, including his mother, who was deeply involved member of a prayer group of Charismatic Christians on Grand Island. Something happened that changed Mombrea's life. As a young father, he became very ill and his mother went to see him. She asked if she could pray over him. "Loving my mother I said, 'Yeah, go ahead.' But I was a little aggravated by it." His mother put her hands on his head and offered a short prayer. Mombrea was immediately healed. He asked his mother what he could do to thank her and she requested that he come to her prayer group. Weeks went by before he finally went, but once he did, he had a spiritual conversion of his own and became a faithful member of the Grand Island prayer group. Mombrea remembers that many prayer groups grew from the Grand Island group, including one at Sacred Heart Church at South Avenue and 11th Street in Niagara Falls, which he began attending. It was there that the idea for Heart, Love and Soul food bank and soup kitchen was born.

The Falls group grew to 400 strong. But, in 1976, some of those members were impacted by the national recession and had lost jobs and were struggling financially. "My wife and I thought, 'Why don’t we ask these people, as long as they’re coming to that prayer meeting, why don’t they come with a couple of canned goods?" With the help of many others from the prayer group, including his brother Michael Mombrea and his good friend Norm Paolini, the collection of food began at the church. Pretty soon, so many were donating food that the volunteers needed to move their growing supply out of Sacred Heart. They were given space in a former grocery store at 15th and Pierce Avenue, by the generosity of owners John and Margaret Maroon, who donated the space until the group could purchase the building. An anonymous gift allowed volunteers to buy the store for $18,000.

The food bank continued to grow. Within a few weeks, volunteers were feeding up to 400 families a week, often making home deliveries. "It’s an amazing thing when you think about it, how God put everything in place," Mombrea recalled. "It was so easy, we put very little effort into it." Michael Ficorilli joined the Niagara Falls prayer group in 1976 with his mom, Frances Ficorilli, at the urging of Michael's wife, Lynne, who had been attending the Sacred Heart prayer meetings. "My mother got very involved, like we all did," said Michael, who is now a deacon at St. Stephen's
Church in Kenmore. "We saw a great need in Niagara Falls at the time to help the poor and the hungry."
His mom, who everyone called Fran, had been laid off from her job at Hooker Chemical and had the time and personality to lead the effort, Michael said. "It’s almost like God orchestrated this to have her available, because you needed someone to drive things forward and that was my mother." Mary Ann Long was also among the volunteers in the early days of Heart Love and Soul, which grew from a collection of canned goods into the expansive service facility it is today on Ontario Street, providing meals, bags of food and other services to those in need.
Long, now a retired nurse, was also a member of the prayer group on Grand Island and later joined the Sacred Heart group with her mom, Anna, and her husband, Joseph Long, because it was closer to their Niagara Falls home. She was drawn to service work by her mother's example. "She never turned people away," Mary Ann said. During the depression her mother worked many jobs to help feed her family. When people would come to their Beech Avenue home for handouts, "My grandmother might take the broom to them to shoo them away but my mother would invite them inside and give them food," Mary Ann said.

Long's relationship with Heart, Love and Soul was as an administrative volunteer and leader. She spent the early years as a board member and was the president of the board for about five years, helping to create bylaws and regulations that would allow the food pantry to apply for grant money, experience she gained as a long-time board member for the Red Cross of Niagara Falls. "It was a good thing to do. People needed help and it was a way of helping them," she said recently of her time spent building the foundations of Heart, Love and Soul. Those interviewed noted there were many others involved in the startup of Heart, Love and Soul and to name some would risk forgetting others. But Mombrea volunteered alongside his brother Michael Mombrea and his dear friend, Norm Paolini, a member of the prayer group who went on to become a founder of St. Luke's Mission of Mercy in Buffalo. Mary Ann Long recalled the hard work of founding volunteers John and Estelle Porreca.

In the years to come, many others would bring their hearts and their spiritual muscle to help grow what is now Heart, Love and Soul. "It's not important how it started, it's about the work that they do," said Mombrea. "They’re doing so much more than we could have ever handled in the founding days," he said. But he, like many others, recalls the beginnings of Heart, Love and Soul, with a sense of awe. "They were very exciting days," Mombrea noted. "It was very exciting to see Christianity work the way it was meant to work, not only as a Christian charity but as an intimate, intimate relationship with God."

The evolution of Heart, Love and Soul in Niagara Falls HISTORY: Sister Barbara Pfohl led mission when it moved to Ontario Street.

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com Feb 9, 2019
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Sister Barbara Pfohl, the longtime director of the Heart & Soul food pantry, poses outside the mission.

Sister Barbara Pfhol is retired now, though it may not look that way. The former director of Heart, Love and Soul food pantry and soup kitchen, volunteers among the homeless at the Little Portion Friary in Buffalo. She also still works with city children at the after school program at the Francis Center on 24th Street. The nun, a sister of St. Francis who lives in downtown Niagara Falls, still carries memories in her
heart of her 13 years as director of Heart, Love and Soul. She took over the directorship of the food pantry in 1999 when founding director, Frances Ficorilli, was looking to retire. The all-volunteer group, founded by participants of a several hundred-member prayer group at Sacred Heart Church in 1982, had been looking for a new location, after outgrowing their first home in a former market at 15th Street and Pierce Avenue.

Under Pfhol's leadership, Heart, Love and Soul volunteers moved into a former Salvation Army building on Ontario Avenue near Main Street, and renovated the place with the assistance of grants and help from community contractors, many of whom gave their labor for free. The purchase of the building was financed with the significant but unnamed financial assistance of two local business leaders and their wives, James Glynn, owner of the Maid of the Mist and his wife, Mary, and Paul Joy, a CEO of Carborundum, and his wife, Joan. Marsha Joy Sullivan, daughter of the Joys, both who are now deceased, said her father saw his support of Heart, Love and Soul as a blessing provided by his wealth and he "talked a lot about seeing the face of god in the poor," she said. Although successful in business, the Glynns and Joys had no experience in providing services to the poor, Sullivan explained. "They weren’t service providers and that’s when they joined arms with Sister Barbara (Pfohl) and Sister Beth (Brosmer) and the Franciscan sisters," Sullivan said. "They had tremendous admiration for the commitment of the sisters of St. Francis, who were heroes to them in every way." The sisters, who lived in the Niagara Falls downtown community or at Stella Niagara, helped to clean the building before Heart, Love and Soul volunteers moved supplies in. "We made it 'convent clean' and she kept it that way," said Sr. Beth Brosmer, the mission's current director recalled. "It's what we try to continue to this day."

Through the years, under the leadership of Sister Barbara Pfohl, services at Heart, Love and Soul grew to include a part-time nurse from Mount St. Mary's Hospital and a full-time social worker. Breakfast service was added and weekday lunch service was expanded to the last two weekends of the month when money is often scarce for those on assistance. The weekend lunch service was provided by the volunteers from four local churches — St. Peter's, Lewiston; Alumni Chapel Community at Niagara University; First Congregational Church and Riverside Presbyterian Church. When asked what she remembers most about her days at the helm of one of the city's largest locations for assistance to the poor, she talked about a sense of community among those who received services from food pantry, soup kitchen and service provider. "I grew to love most of the people there personally … and I felt that when I went there, they were kind of already a community of people who knew each other from the neighborhoods or on the street or wherever they hung out," she recalled, adding "and I felt that they welcomed me into their community." The guests at the mission made their voices heard, she said, when asked one day to sign a petition designating the mission as a Peace Site and all but one signed his or her name. A Peace Pole was erected in front of the building, with plaques expressing "Peace" in four different languages, as a symbol of the welcoming spirit of Heart, Love and Soul.

Legacy of care lives on at Heart, Love and Soul food pantry MISSION: Guests appreciate 38-year-old center for its support, compassion.

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com Feb 13, 2019
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Bo Bo Lamar, 76, enjoys visiting Heart, Love and Soul for the free lunch but even more so "to be among
friends."

Sister Beth Brosmer has learned a few things about herself in the 10 years she has been director of Heart, Love and Soul. "I found the best of myself here and the worst of myself here, and both are blessings," said the nun to a visitor at the soup kitchen and food pantry on Tuesday. Sitting at her desk at the warm and tidy Ontario Avenue mission, where dozens of poor and homeless are served lunch each day, she said that her most humbling lesson was learning about perceptions. She has learned that even good instincts and years of experience won't provide all the
answers all the time. "I can look at somebody and make a judgement about them, and it isn't always right on the money,"
she said with a smile, adding, "It's humbling to learn the truth, especially when I thought I knew the truth."

On Friday, the mission will make an announcement about expansion and fundraising, but the place has been growing and evolving since it was opened in 1982 at 15th Street and Pierce Avenue by volunteers from a local prayer group. The food bank, which eventually moved to Ontario Avenue and began serving lunches, is warm, inviting and "convent clean" as Sister Beth likes to joke, referencing the early days when her fellow
sisters helped to clean the place before it opened the first day. The energy at lunch time is typically jovial and loving, with volunteers serving guests on the buffet line. Tuesday's lunch was hamburgers and beans with macaroni salad. "If you were here long enough, you would be surprised at how tolerant the guests are of each other," said Brosmer, recounting a recent incident when one guest with some mental health issues started shouting at another. When she went over to the person being shouted at to apologize, the man said without judgement, "Oh, that's all right. I know her." "The tolerance they have for other people's lives amazes me," the nun said.

Brosmer, a Franciscan nun and the former director of development for Stella Niagara, relies on a small devoted staff of about a dozen full- and part-timers. "They make sure everybody gets the same good treatment," she explained. "They take ownership
and pride in their work." She cites the kitchen manager response to the surprise visit of a health inspector. Manager Terri Granarie said she wasn't worried about the inspection. "She told me she just makes sure she's always ready," Brosmer noted with pride. "They hold me up," she said of her staff. "If I'm not here, the place still runs a smooth as glass." Also providing support for the 200 or so daily guests are the volunteers, many of whom show up one or two days a week to prep, serve, cook and clean for breakfast and lunch, and others who provide services including hair cuts, foot care and more to those in need. For instance, five times a year, a doctor examines guests' feet and they can partake in a foot soak if
they wish. A cosmetologist oversees the soaking, sitting on the floor in front of each guest to trim their toenails. It's a very intimate encounter for those being tended, Brosmer said. "Somebody's touching you with respect and care and they are helping your health, which is a very
lovely experience," she said.

The whole idea of Heart, Love and Soul is to care for those who might not find care elsewhere. Personal care items are provided at a "Necessary Shop," and there are showers available, as well as nutrition and cooking classes, bible study and children's summer programs, along with medical testing, screening and social services. Jackie Collins, who moved as a boy to Niagara Falls from Atlanta after his mother died at age 32, has been coming to the center for about 15 years. He often does odd jobs for the staff and enjoys coming each day for lunch because "you can eat here and there are friends here." He's happy to help."They can ask old Jackie to do anything and they know that," he said of the staff. Another guest, Ron Miller, 51, a veteran, said he enjoys coming to Heart, Love and Soul as he tries to get his life in order. Miller often visits with Sister Louise Gallahue, the care coordinator, who recently traveled with him to the Veterans Administration clinic to make sure the doctor understood
his needs. Bobo Lamar, 76, a Vietnam veteran, is another of the many that make their way to the mission, which welcomes any and all for a free lunch, five days a week and on the last two weekends of the month. Sister Beth jokes with him about his deep, rich voice."I tell him he has a Cadillac voice," Brosmer said. Lamar, who says he "Thanks the Lord" every morning when he wakes up, likes to flirt with the ladies
in the lunch line. "I come here to be among friends," he said.

When asked what more the guests might need at the center, Brosmer gave a quick list of helpful donations including toilet paper, towels and tube socks, small jars of vapor rub, small bottles of cooking oil, ramen noodles and other pasta side dishes and cans of tuna and sardines. The requests are for simple things to make a hard life just a bit easier, but the ask will be greater when leaders announce a new era for Heart, Love and Soul at a press conference on Friday.

Heart, Love and Soul announces $3.5 million Capital Campaign 

CHARITY: Food pantry formally launches campaign aimed at expanding services.
By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com Feb 15, 2019
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Sister Beth Brosmer announces the kickoff of a capital campaign to support the new Daybreak program and
facility addition at Heart Love and Soul.

Very soon, it will be easier for those in need to receive help with their lives in the North End of the city. A $3.5 million expansion and a program called Daybreak, which will provide expanded services to the surrounding community, was unveiled Friday at the Heart, Love and Soul food pantry. Leaders of the Ontario Avenue soup kitchen and food pantry announced a major fundraising initiative already underway, which has raised $2.6 million to date, but noted the remaining portion of the needed funds are still being sought from supporters of the mission. "We are excited to announce our Daybreak campaign for Heart and Soul," said Sister Beth Brosmer, director of facility. She said the fundraising would continue so that the planned expansion can be completed — including renovation of a Niagara Avenue building and a creation of a courtyard and hallway to connect the two buildings — and the programs can be sustained.  Leaders say construction will cost $1.5 million, with $2 million needed for program costs and sustainability. "Daybreak will help to close gaps in services for our vulnerable sisters and brothers in need," said Brosmer, standing in front of a variety of enlarged photos depicting the design and layout of the expansion. 

The plans call for new offices to house a rotating representatives of many service providers to the community, including Niagara County Social Services, Catholic Charities, HANCI, the YWCA and the Veterans Administration. The expansion will serve guests at the center — who can now receive breakfast, lunch and a limited number of other services. It will also benefit the surrounding community, including residents of the Henry E. Wrobel Towers a half-block away on Niagara Avenue. 

Attending the announcement were about 60 people, including a variety of local politicians, Niagara University officials, non-profit leaders and dignitaries, which made for a very enthusiastic audience. Robyn Kreuger, CEO of Community Missions and chairwoman of the Coalition for the Homeless, described for those present how the idea for Daybreak came through the coalition.  She said a special committee from the coalition was formed after a 2011 presentation at the Heart, Love and Soul from DePaul Industries in Philadelphia about consolidating services to those in need. A DePaul subcommittee was created and the committee met monthly through the years, trying to determine gaps in services and the types of services needed by the community. It was determined there was a strong need for coordination between service providers and ease in accessing services, she said. "Even for those of us who work in the system, it can be complicated, it can be daunting, just to even get started," Kreuger said.

The committee looked at several models of service including a program called Daybreak in Macon, Georgia, which serves several hundred homeless people and provides showers, phones, computers and access to staff from assistance providers who worked out of the Macon center. Kreuger said another model considered was the Veterans Administration One Stop in Buffalo, which has satellite offices in Lockport and Niagara Falls. The committee created Daybreak with those ideas in mind and the new center will include a "welcoming environment" blending hospitality and compassion with accountability and responsibility.  There will be showers, a cafe, sitting areas and a work area. On-site service providers will offer workforce training, behavioral health, financial literacy, legal advocacy and education assistance. "Daybreak will open the door to a robust network of partners whose services reinforce and strengthen each other," said Anthony J. Restaino, commissioner of Niagara County Social Services.

President of the board of Heart, Love and Soul Board, Dr. Whitney Vantine, called the Daybreak fundraising effort "an opportunity for old friends and new to come and support our vision." Whitney, former superintendent of schools in the City of Tonawanda, is a 10-year volunteer at Heart, Love and Soul who serves food to guests every Thursday. At the podium, he reached out to those in attendance for their support. "Today, we ask you to join us in whatever way you can make a difference in our community," he said. "Meet with us, take a tour, volunteer for a day. I'd love to have you serve food with me on Thursday and see the impact your involvement can have."

For more information about the fundraising effort, call Heart, Love and Soul at 282-5687. 

EDITORIAL: Community can play big role in bringing 'Daybreak' to life

Feb 15, 2019

Heart, Love & Soul food pantry has been providing food and support to the less fortunate in the city of Niagara Falls for decades now. The Ontario Avenue soup kitchen, currently let by Sister Beth Brosmer, serves as a house of faith and restoration day in and day out in a community where, unfortunately, many individuals and families struggle to get by. Supporters of the organization — from Brosmer on down — have consistently held to the highest standards in terms of generosity, kindness and care. The support the pantry receives from private businesses and outside agencies is a testament to its trustworthiness and productivity as an organization.

While Heart, Love & Soul has always relied on the generosity of others to help support its services and good work, the food pantry has now embarked on a different sort of mission aimed at expanding its offerings, and by extension the offerings of other area charitable groups. Representatives from Heart, Love & Soul have announced a capital campaign aimed at raising money for a program they are calling Daybreak. Part of the plan involves raising money to help with the renovation of a recently acquired building at 924 Niagara Ave. Heart, Love & Soul officials want to use the renovated structure, located behind the current food pantry building, as a home for Daybreak, which is designed to build upon existing programming by providing additional basic services and dedicated space to allow various partner agencies to help people directly on-site.
“By bringing a variety of services together in one accessible location, we can improve the effectiveness of our efforts and make a greater collective impact on our community and individuals in need,” Brosmer noted.

The new center would offer shower and laundry facilities, a multi-purpose community room, computer lab, additional space for case management and care coordination, a reflection room, and offices for partner agencies to deliver a variety of services on a rotating basis. Clients will be able to
access services for housing, health and wellness, behavioral health, employment and training, education, financial literacy, legal support and more. Renovation work on the building is expected to begin in May, with plans to open the facility in the fall. There is, of course, still money to be raised. The project tab, inclusive of construction, start-up and operating costs, is expected to be roughly $3.5 million. So far, the food pantry has pulled together about $2.6 million. The difference is where the community comes in. Few organizations have done so much by asking for so little and helped as many people in need as Heart, Love & Soul has in its lengthy and noteworthy history. Sister Beth, members of the organization’s board and others who have long supported the goals of the food pantry have proven themselves worthy of making wise use of monetary contributions and other donations for many, many years now.

The appropriately named Daybreak offers yet another opportunity for the generous people who live in and around the Niagara Falls to do their part to support a project that promises to be yet another ray of sunshine in the community’s North End. We encourage all residents and business owners who have the means to give what they can to help the Heart, Love & Soul food pantry — an organization that has done so much for so many for so many years — raise the funding needed to make Daybreak not just a reality but a rousing success of which the entire community can be proud.