The evolution of Heart, Love & Soul in Niagara Falls history

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.

Sister Barbara Pfohl, the longtime director of the Heart & Soul food pantry, poses outside the mission.

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.

Author: Michele DeLuca
Source: Niagara Gazette

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