Hearts’ CEO & President, Nicholas Calandra, spoke with Peter Kaye from KLOVE radio station for their segment, LOCAL Closer Look: Hearts for the Homeless – Buffalo.
They discussed the faces of homelessness and who is at risk for homelessness. The answer: everyone. The faces of homeless people are our brothers and sisters, children, and people who we see in our community everyday. We have come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic which means a lot of resources and support has ended and the rise of inflation for many causes worry and strain financially. Along with substance abuse and mental health, there are a variety of reasons why a person or family could be homeless.
“What always hits closest home to me is often we can take for granted that it can be a one time event or something happening in our life that could trigger this situation that leads to homelessness”, said Calandra. “The face of homelessness is anyone.”
Hearts for the Homeless® wants to be there to help those in need. When an individual or family doesn’t have a support system it can increase homelessness significantly. Hearts receives all kinds of inquiries. From those who are experiencing homelessness right away, they’re currently homeless, or seeing that it might be coming on horizon. Hearts also works with other organizations to see if we can assist them directly, as quickly as we can.
In addition to helping those who are currently homeless, Hearts tries to help those in need to prevent homelessness. “Prevention is ultimately one of those tools we don’t want people to lose sight of”, said Calandra. “Before something is too late, before that eviction happens, before you find yourself homeless and on the street, let’s see if there’s something we [Hearts] can do to try and help.” Hearts helps those in need who might be experiencing food insecurity through the Hearts Harvest Food Pantry and other outreach programs. Trying to help those family budgets go further, Hearts gives assistance with items from the Hearts Thrift Store.
Since 1990, Heart for the Homeless® has been helping those in need through the Mobile Soup Kitchen. Then in December 2019, with the expansion of the Hearts Campus, Nicholas felt called to support the community more than ever due to a local food pantry closing its doors in just a few weeks. “A food pantry is not something our community could live without”, said Calandra. A temporary food pantry was opened, where they started serving 5,000 grocery meals a month to then serving over 20,000 grocery meals a month. A few years later, The Hearts Harvest Food Pantry is one of the fastest growing programs. The need for food support within the Riverside community is significant. “It’s an honor to serve the community in that way”, said Calandra.
The Hearts Harvest Food Pantry is a great way to connect with people. The food pantry offers a dignified program utilizing a “client choice” distribution method so individuals and families can choose the food that personally suits their needs. Hearts for the Homeless® unfortunately can’t be everything to everyone but Hearts is here to help and provide critical information about other services that are available in the area.
Many people are familiar with the Mobile Soup Kitchen as it’s Hearts’ longest serving program. But something many may not know about Hearts is our meal partnerships with homeless shelters. We use our commercial kitchen that was built out years ago for the Mobile Soup Kitchen to also support other organizations and ministries with food. Hearts strongly supports shelters during the Code Blue initiative during the winter months and others that happen year round like the Curbside Church initiative with the Buffalo Dream Center.
Other local partnerships include Chick-Fil-A, Pepperidge Farm, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans and University at Buffalo as part of Hearts’ food recovery efforts. By donating excess or unsold food to Hearts, it helps reduce their food waste while also helping Hearts feed those in our community. These donations also help Hearts to make meals for shelters like Little Portion Friary and the Restoration Society. Once again, utilizing that commercial kitchen where Hearts can make tens of thousands of meals for our homeless brothers and sisters and those in need.
What Hearts is able to accomplish is possible by dedicated volunteers. “Volunteers are the lifeblood of Hearts”, said Calandra. Hearts outreach programs are supported by volunteers and are so critical to the organization. Giving their time and supporting our brothers and sisters in need. Hearts Mobile Food Pantry recently saw 399 people in one afternoon and that was made possible by volunteers. An important part of Hearts’ ministry are the donated goods that come from the donation bins around Western New York and the volunteers that work in the Hearts Thrift Store help sort and organize donations so those proceeds can go back into the ministry to buy supplies that aren’t donated and further help those in need.
When looking at the future of Hearts for the Homeless®, there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon. The Hearts Food Pantry Express is our most recent endeavor, which takes the concept of the client choice pantry and puts it on the road to bring a food pantry to different communities who currently face insecurity.
We hope that everyone will pray with us on where Hearts can help next and support the members in our community.
To listen to the full interview, click here.