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REALITY OF POVERTY REVEALED DURING VISIT TO CITY MISSION

Over the course of the last three months, I have been doing book signings for my book, "Desperation." I am donating my portion of the proceeds to the Buffalo City Mission.

The more I learn about the City Mission, and organizations like it, the more I feel that I have to give something back.

What are we without hope? That's a question I've asked myself a number of times since touring the mission while doing research for my book.

For five years, I worked on a story that chronicled a family's attempt to cheat poverty. I read a number of books on the subject, and fancied myself something of an expert on what it might mean to be poor in a material-driven society.

But in the first half-hour of my tour of the City Mission, I learned more about what was in my heart than I did in the years researching the subject of poverty.

The statement of the Buffalo City Mission is to restore hope, dignity and lives. In appearances throughout the community, I've asked people if they would be willing to lend a hand in return for grace. Who among us would not throw a line to a drowning man? Would we ask for a financial statement? Would we want to know if his credit is any good?

While walking through the mission, I met the head of the food pantry. He shook my hand for all that he was worth, and mentioned something about turning his life around. He showed me the place with a wave of his hand, and he said, "I'm in charge around here."

Not knowing exactly what to say, I mentioned that he was doing an excellent job. His chest puffed out, and he shook my hand again. He'd spent 17 days at the mission, and he was going to make it. Since that day, I have chastised myself for not finding out more about the man, and even though I didn't get his name, suddenly poverty had a face, one with some hope and dignity.

Yet, as I walked around looking at the supplies, it occurred to me that perhaps there was more that could be done. The pantry was only partially filled. The demand is terrific.

Most people understand that food is a basic need for places like the City Mission. But few give a thought to the other staples of everyday life that most of us take for granted.

"We have a shortage of socks and underwear," said Rod Sargent, my tour guide. "No one donates socks and underwear."

It's a thought that has haunted me since. Do you take having a clean pair of shorts for granted? We shame ourselves to watch a man beg for survival, and still, we put on clean socks and underwear every day, and pray that poverty and homelessness will go away.

I stepped out into the bright sunshine of a beautiful fall day. I walked back to my car, got in, shook my head and drove away.

I know now that I have words to soothe me, and not enough time or money to give. But for the Love of God, we all deserve clean socks and underwear. The men on the streets have a face. They have a name, and they deserve our grace.

For what are we without hope?

CLIFFORD FAZZOLARI lives in Blasdell.

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