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Response to Love Center begins renovation project

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Since 1985, the Response to Love Center has dedicated its ministry to helping poverty-stricken individuals and families in Buffalo’s East Side by empowering people to take responsibility for their lives and encourage self-sufficiency through dignity and compassion. By developing relationships with individuals and introducing them to people and programs that will assist with their individual problems and needs, the center aims to address the repeated cycle of poverty in the area.

As the holiday season approaches, Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, executive director, makes sure the kitchen is ready to prepare the 300 turkey dinners to be given away on Thanksgiving. She also is looking to prepare the kitchen for the future meals needed to feed the residents of the neighborhood.

The Response to Love Center has begun the Matthew:25 Project that will overhaul the former St. Adalbert School, turning the back-up kitchen into the main kitchen that feeds up to 350 people a day, and open up the second floor to education services. Sister Johnice expects the renovations to run $350,000.

The basement, damaged by water leakage, is now being converted into a fully working kitchen with a 30 by 110-foot dining room. The main floor will be for administration, intake and the thrift shop. While the top floor will be the education center, offering adult ed, English as a second language, and life skills courses. The goal is to have flexible space to meet the changing needs of its clients.

“It’s not just for now. It’s for the future, because needs are growing. The center is expanding its service. So, we have to meet the needs. Someone said, did you just do this because of Covid? And I said, no, we finally realized that Covid gave us the answer and said, move forward,” Sister Johnice explained.

The project will renovate the kitchen with a new floor, a new dishwasher, grease traps, and exhaust hood for the stove. The upstairs appliances, that had been used for hot meals, will be used for teaching cooking classes.

“It’s going to be a commercial kitchen (in the basement),” said Michael Gilhooly, assistant director of the center. “A better kitchen conducive to what we need it for. We’re in talks to move all of our cooking facilities down here. This will be the new facility kitchen. The kitchen upstairs is going to be modified to be a training kitchen. Let the people know that the food that we offer out of our pantry they’ll actually learn how to cook. A lot of our people grew up never trying to cook. This allows them to get the correct nutrition.”

The center now hands out 200 meals on an average day, 350 when it gets busy. Even though they are serving more meals, they have fewer people coming in to eat due to Covid regulations. With a limited number of people coming in, this seemed like the perfect time for renovations.

“Before Covid we were about 120 a day,” Gilhooly said. “We brought people in and we sat down with people right next to one another. It wasn’t just a come and sit and eat, there was a social gathering for people. We had thrift shops that were open. They would come and shop in the thrift shops or get their pantry bag. We don’t just say, here’s your bag. Unfortunately, we have to do that now, but it’s still client choice.”

Clients can no longer pick out what they want from the pantry themselves, but the staff and volunteers make sure the food they get is what they want and compliant with any dietary restrictions.  

The Response to Love Center is not just a place to get a handout. The staff pays attention to the clients. If they notice the same people coming in month after month, they ask why.

“If they need a bag of food, here’s your food. Come see us next month. Next month, ‘Why do you need food? Is it because you don’t have a job or is it because you’re underemployed. Do you have a health issue?’ There are a lot of questions. We try and address the underlying causes and the root problem and then we try and remedy that to the best of our ability,” explained Gilhooly. “We have an intake process where a client sits down with a trained intake worker and they assess their overall needs. If they don’t know how to read, they can go up to the second floor and get adult education. We have job training. We have other things that aren’t really tangible, domestic violence assistance, housing assistance. That’s all done in Sister’s care on the second floor. And it’s one-on-one with the people.”

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