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Ladies of Charity celebrate 80 years of serving neighbors in need

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Bishop Michael W. Fisher spends a moment with the many volunteers who make up the Ladies of Charity. The Ladies of Charity celebrated their 80th anniversary in Buffalo with a Mass of Thanksgiving at OLV National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna in September. (Photo courtesy of the Ladies of Charity)

For the past 80 years, the Ladies of Charity have been offering a helping hand in any way they can. Since the organization came to Buffalo in 1941, volunteers have been knitting, reading and collecting household goods for those who need it.

The international organization actually traces its roots to 1617 when St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac founded the organization in France. It first came to the U.S. in 1857 when a chapter formed in St. Louis. Catholic Charities brought the Ladies of Charity to Buffalo in 1941.

“We work hand in hand with Catholic Charities to help people who are living in poverty,” explained Kathleen Roseti, president of the local chapter. “We have ministries that we do on our own. Some of the parish groups have different ministries. They tend to help different groups of people. It could be making wheelchair/walker bags to help people using wheelchairs to move things, knitting blankets, feeding the poor, contributing money to food banks or pantries, visiting the poor, people who are in hospitals or sick.”

Over 300 members serve in parishes and run the Lots of Clothes Thrift Store at 1122 Broadway, just three blocks from the Broadway Market. Catholic Charites social workers assess the needs of their clients and often will refer people to the store to pick up needed new or gently used clothing or household goods. “It could be a woman coming out of the shelter with her family, or it could be someone coming out of jail. We help men and women. Any denomination. We don’t care. Immigrants, refugees come to Buffalo. They have a need. They come see us and we try to help them get established or help them for a little while to learn, to get out of poverty,” said Roseti. “We also are part of the Western New York Holiday Partnership. So, we distribute toys and new hats and gloves to approximately a thousand children every year. At Christmas, we provide bags filled with items that we give to people are home bound and they’re distributed to the Catholic Charities caseworkers.”

Beyond material goods, the ladies have been known to visit the Valley Daycare Center to read to the children and provided them with books to encourage them to read. Other knit blankets and afghans for a layette program.

The past 18 months have been a bit of a challenge. The store closed for about six months. Then reopened with Catholic Charities workers taking over, as many of the older Ladies of Charity volunteers were afraid to interact with large crowds. The store gradually built up to being open five days a week.

“Monetarily we’re doing OK. A lot of non-profits suffered quite a bit during Covid, but our members are very generous and supportive of our organization,” Roseti said. “So, we’re continuing to be able to provide the different items to the people come to us.”

They may be secure financially, but are always in need of volunteers. The typical profile is a retiree with an interest in helping people and looking to stay active.

“You don’t have to come in all the time. We have lot of people just come in once a week, once a month. It’s a satisfying experience,” said Roseti. “Usually it’s a retired person who is looking to do something to help somebody else.”

“It’s this amazing group of women,” added Julie Lulek, the newly named director. “I stepped into the role not knowing that much about them, all of the work that they do. They’re amazing. Especially, the ones I see on a regular basis that come into the store, that come into the office. They are there day in and day out. They’re older, retired women but the energy and the passion to help and to be there doing whatever they need to do. I’ve been astounded by that energy and compassion of each of these women. It’s not a bunch of women sitting around drinking tea. They are hard-working dedicated women.”

To celebrate their big anniversary, OLV National Shrine and Basilica hosted a special Mass in September celebrated by Bishop Michael W. Fisher, with assistance by Deacon Steve Schumer, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo.

The Lots of Clothes store held a sidewalk sale. Keeping with the 80th anniversary theme, most items sold for just 80 cents.

“A $3 top went for 80 cents, which was great for the neighbors because we have a lot more stock than we would have had normally too before, because people weren’t coming into a store as well. We had a hot dog roast where we gave away hot dogs every day to our customers,” explained Roseti.

More information can be found at https://locbuffalony.org/about/

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