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.
Author: Michele DeLuca
Source: Niagara Gazette