While many parishes host a food pantry to help the less fortunate, St. John the Baptist Parish in Lockport goes above and beyond, as the St. John’s Outreach has become one of the major human service agencies in Niagara County.
What once began as a small pantry three decades ago, St. John’s Outreach has expanded into the old parish school on Chestnut Street and now offers food, clothing, furniture and diapers, a new service initiated this past spring. Outreach Director Michael Boron explains the center services more than just parishioners, but much of Eastern Niagara County.
“Even though we are under the umbrella and are sponsored by our parish, we are a communitywide human service agency,” he said. “We service any and all households in need, regardless of whether they belong to the parish, are Catholic or have any religion. If they have a need, we’re there for them.”
The center’s diaper pantry is a new service that began in May with a “baby shower,” a reception that raised more than 11,000 donated diapers.
“We literally had a little party,” Boron said. “We had a little cake and some entertainment. We encouraged people to stop by and drop off diapers and spend a few minutes with us. We had an incredible response. DeSales Catholic School brought in, by themselves, about 2,000 diapers.”
The center has also received grant funding to continue the diaper pantry service. St. John’s Outreach is working with the Food Bank of Western New York on the project, as there are few similar services in Niagara County. Boron estimates there are about 800 children in Niagara County under the age of 2 that would qualify for the service. Since the pantry opened in June, St. John’s Outreach has distributed about 2,000 diapers.
“Diapers for our clients, who are typically low-income or no-income households, are very expensive and are a critical item for the health and well-being of their children,” Boron said. “We have no idea how many we’re going to need. We have a rough idea of how many low-income children reside in Niagara County, but we have no idea how many are going to come here.”
St. John’s Outreach continues operating its usual services. The clothing center welcomes donations from parishioners, the general public and other Niagara County churches. The furniture center offers deliveries and focuses on basic items, like beds, couches, chairs and kitchen tables.
The center also works with the Food Bank to operate the pantry, which services about 400 families a month. The pantry operates on a customer-choice model that allows clients to choose what they want instead of taking a pre-packed bag.
“It eliminates the chance that someone might have something in the bag they’re allergic to,” Boron said.
The center continues to work with other agencies like the Food Bank and Catholic Charities to help their clients, especially when St. John’s Outreach cannot provide the service themselves.
“There’s only so much we can do for them here, but one of our goals is not to let them just walk out the door with groceries or clothes,” Boron said. “We try to give them guidance about what other services or resources could be available to them, if they’re not now engaged by them.”
St. John’s Outreach also has seasonal services. Later this month, they will solicit the community for old backpacks and school supplies for the upcoming year.
“That’s trying to give these low-income household children a jump start on the next school year and try to make sure they have the basic supplies,” Boron said.
On Labor Day, St. John’s Outreach has a special event to provide winter clothing for adults and children. The center also has special food distributions for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
St. John’s Outreach receives its funding from a number of sources, including parish collections, members of the community who offer financial backing and various foundations which award grants. Boron believes the center services a few thousand people a month, although many are repeat clients. About 50 volunteers help keep St. John’s Outreach in business.
“It’s a great community resource,” Boron said. “Quite honestly, a lot of people in Lockport didn’t know who we were. They thought we were much more limited in who we serve, but I’ve done the best I can to get out and make people aware we’re a human service agency. The flip side of that is that we’re starting to gain more support from other churches in the area, both Catholic and other denominations, and other donors in the community. We are expanding with the need caused by the economy, but my belief is we’re starting to get some traction on broadening our support base beyond our parish.”