Wednesday, December 05, 2007

News Neediest: Lining up each day for a meal

from The Buffalo News

Salvation Army’sLockport soup kitchenprovides meals for200 people daily
By Bill Michelmore

LOCKPORT — Lunch begins early at 50 Cottage St. People start lining up inside the Salvation Army soup kitchen at 11 a.m. every day for a meal they might not otherwise get.

The center is a sanctuary for Laura Yeates, 32, a single mother with four daughters from ages 3 to 12 and a 14- month-old son.

Without a car and pushing a baby stroller, Yeates walks several blocks from her house to the Salvation Army Family Center every day for lunch.

“I’m very thankful for this place,” she said, as she sat down to a steaming plate of chicken and vegetables. “I might have enough money to buy a sandwich for me and my baby, but there’s nothing like a hot meal.”

In Niagara County, 18.5 percent of families live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey. That number jumps to 44.7 percent in households of single mothers.

There are no specific figures for Lockport’s 22,000 residents, but more than 17,500 people in Niagara County receive food stamps through the county’s Social Service Department, said Pam Gatto, the department’s director of eligibility.

The Salvation Army in Lockport provides meals for 200 people each day at its center on Cottage Street, said Maj. John Wheeler, who heads the center with his wife, Maj. Martha Wheeler. On Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, food is delivered to another 800 people in the city.

The center is also one of many food-distribution sites that will receive donations during the holiday season, thanks to the collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership.

The Neediest Fund and Holiday Partnership will provide food and toys to more than 12,000 needy families in Erie and Niagara counties this holiday season.

The center provides needed nourishment for the soul, as well as the body. Counselors advise struggling and troubled people on a wide range of matters, including mental health, finances and spousal abuse. Afterschool sports and educational programs are provided for youngsters from poor families. “These are neighborhood kids,” said Chris Gresart, the director. “By coming here, they keep off the streets.”

Donald Weed, chaplain of United Methodist Church in Olcott, shows up at lunchtime to cheer people up with holiday songs and offer prayers to feed the spirit.

“A lot of people need that,” he said. “They need the food, no doubt about that, but they also want to hear that God is with them.”

Added Wheeler: “To do what we have to do here, we’d need eight more employees, but we can’t afford to hire anybody.”

Volunteers try to fill that staff shortage. Karen Sennett has been working in the kitchen for 15 years. Donna Glena, retired after 25 years with Delph i Thermal Systems, has been in the kitchen for six years.

“Helping out here makes me feel very fortunate,” Glena said. “I’ve got a home, and, thank God, I don’t have to worry about having my heat cut off.”

That’s what Laura Yeates had to look forward to when she left the soup kitchen one day last week. The utility company cut off her heat and electricity because she owes $400 in back payments.

“It’s cold at night. We snuggle up together to keep warm,” she said, referring to baby, Shay.

Her daughters, Cierra, 12; Jasmine, 9; Kyla, 4; and Samarra, 3, are staying with her parents in Sanborn until her situation improves.

“I try to stay positive,” she said. “I figure I’m at the bottom and the only way now is up.”

After lunch at the soup kitchen, she walked a half-dozen blocks to St. John’s Outreach clothing center on Chestnut Street to get some blankets to keep her and the baby warm in a house without heat or electricity.

As Laura Yeates set off for the clothing center, people kept filing into the Salvation Army soup kitchen for lunch.

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