A 32-foot motor home cruised Buffalo's streets over the Christmas holiday on a maiden voyage to offer warm spirits and clothes to homeless people left out in the cold.
The volunteers behind the wheel hope to make the motor home an established part of local services for the needy. The project is called Hearts for the Homeless.
"We're trying to practice what we preach," the Rev. Robert Schenck, a Pentecostal minister from Grand Island, said Tuesday.
Mr. Schenck is founder and president of Operation Serve, a division of P&R Schenck Associates in Evangelism, which he operates with his twin brother, the Rev. Paul Schenck, senior pastor of New Covenant Tabernacle in the Town of Tonawanda.
Since 1982, Operation Serve has recruited and deployed volunteer medical personnel to impoverished regions of the world, including Mexico, Latin American and the black townships of South Africa, where they provide free health care. Many of the doctors and dentists come from Western New York.
"We've always been nagged by the question of why we invest so much effort overseas when we could help people in our own backyard," Mr. Schenck said. "At first, we thought there already were a lot of local support services in place. But then over the years it became more apparent that there were gaps in those services."
The group decided to help the homeless by supplying them with rides to established shelters and with new clothes. Mr. Schenck emphasizes that the donated goods are new, not used.
Hearts for the Homeless delivered clothes to local shelters on Christmas Eve. The next day, Ron Calandra, a program volunteer, spent the afternoon driving the motor home through the city streets again, beginning at the Wilson Farms store at Elmwood and Auburn streets and then making stops at the Exchange Street Amtrak Station, the Metro Transportation Station and the Friends of the Night People shelter.
"I've worked at Wilson Farms for four years and have seen a lot of homeless or street people come in. You have to try to help in any way you can," said Calandra, who was homeless himself for a brief time as a child.
"I come from a divorced family. We moved around the country. We had nothing. It was for a short time, thankfully, but I know what it's like to panhandle. I know what it's like to be without a home," he said.
The motor home comes with a story, too. It's where Mr. Schenck's family lived when in 1988 he embarked on his Faithwalk, a 2,000-mile walk from Buffalo to Mexico City, during which Mr. Schenck raised $400,000 in cash and pledges for Mexico's poor.
Exactly when and where Hearts for the Homeless will operate is unclear. It depends on how many people donate their time and money.
For now, the plan is to search for the homeless with the motor home at least every weekend, give them warm clothes and a temporary roof over their head, and deliver them to one of the established shelters in the city.