A Radical Change in Serving: Thwarting the Effects of a Radical Virus

by Donna Blarr

Hearts for the Homeless feeds and clothes the chronically homeless, poor, and those in need through our outreach programs Hearts Mobile Soup Kitchen, Hearts Harvest Food Pantry, Hearts Mobile Food Pantry, Hearts Thrift Shop, and our donation and recycle program.

From the onset of COVID and looking inward, Hearts wanted to comfort and assist people who were burdened with the fear of running out of food and household supplies. We felt that if we can’t serve in the midst of the worst of times, we’ve lost our purpose. We set out to be imitators of God.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2NIV).

When our mobile soup kitchen distributes meals to the poor and homeless at the downtown library, our volunteer mobile crews meet people with all types of needs and challenges – physical, emotional, housing issues, etc.

Our mobile crew prayed with a woman who was legally blind and very overwhelmed by her homelessness. The team did their best to show her compassion, give her food, advice, a resource sheet and point her in the direction to get help. They left knowing that their prayers were her first step in opening up her heart for God to fill it.

During the pandemic, we also reached out to local agencies, staying true to our outreach in making sure the homeless were getting fed beyond the location where we serve downtown. We also served anyone in the surrounding communities in need, through our food pantries. We fed all individuals and families affected by COVID-19 and provided three days-worth of meals to each person, each time they came. By expanding our reach beyond our local zip code, Hearts for the Homeless has loved our neighbors from every corner of Western New York, following Christ’s example.

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 NIV).

During the height of the pandemic, we radically changed the way we had to manage our programs. How could we not continue on with our original mission? We never had to close down any of our programs, except for the thrift store when retailers were mandated to shut down. Hearts Thrift Shop has been a long-standing resource for our community as a place to come to be heard, prayed for, receive spiritual support, friendship, or many times just to step off the city streets for a few moments of peace.

When we were able to reopen the thrift shop, people expressed concern about what is happening in the world and asked where God was in all of it. We were able to ease their fears through the Word, and respond about God and what the Bible says – customers were humbled and very willing to listen. As COVID’s fury continued, we listened to stories of how people’s lives were affected. As we felt their pain along with them, we encouraged them with the hope they can have through Christ the Savior, and prayed with them.

Our Mobile crews that distribute meals to the homeless have brought much reassurance to the homeless simply by “being there” day after day, week after week. Our Tuesday Mobile Crew usually sees two to twelve salvations every week. They also hand out Bibles and urge these new believers to find a local church.

The number of homeless and poor people we served during the pandemic jumped from an annual figure of 14,000 (2019) to more than 57,000 in 2020 — a total of 281,845 meals served and mouths fed! We never thought the numbers of individuals served would have been this large. We feel blessed and radically used by God to have been able to reach them, while at the same time saddened to see the masses in our own backyard so hungry and needy.

All that we did to help others throughout the pandemic showed us the true ‘why’ and reason Hearts started renovating a building on the site of our outreach center. We began to refurbish it before the pandemic to be the permanent placement for our Hearts Harvest Food Pantry and to create a ministry campus. This building will be a very important beacon and resource for those in the neighborhood. In addition to handing out groceries in the food pantry, we will be planning educational classes, Bible studies, and opening a café for anyone in the neighborhood to come in, sit down, and have a cup of tea or coffee. This will allow Hearts to reach and minister to the community daily and put the greatest commandment, love, into action.

Characterized by a profound spiritual motivation, Hearts for the Homeless of Western New York, Inc. serves the local community by feeding the poor and homeless and helping the community at large create better living environments through Hearts Ministry Center including Hearts Mobile Soup Kitchen, Hearts Thrift Shop and Hearts Harvest Food Pantry.

For more information visit heartsforthehomeless.org, or contact Nicholas Calandra or Donna Blarr at office@heartsforthehomeless.org.