The Good Neighbors Health Center opens today on Buffalo's East Side. It's the latest example of a growing faith-based effort to bring basic medical care to underserved parts of the city.
The project ties together the dreams of two groups.
Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence had spent more than a year assembling a team of professionals and volunteers to staff a free clinic in the city, but lacked a place to set up.
Harvest House, a faith-based retreat center in South Buffalo, had a huge building donated to it and was figuring out what to do with all the space.
"We met, and the dream just began to fall together," said Dan Scanlon, director of ministries at the church.
The health center will start small in the 29,000-square-foot former Mack Truck dealership at 175 Jefferson Ave. near North Division Street. Hours are 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Fridays.
But the goal eventually is to operate a full-time medical office, with an array of other services such as vision care and dentistry.
Just about everything depends on people volunteering time, money or equipment. Scanlon and his colleagues expressed hope that dentists, hygienists and optometrists will step forward to make it happen.
"We're a largely white congregation in the suburbs, but we've wanted to do something in the city," Scanlon said. "Churches provided care to the poor long before the government took up that role. Now churches are reclaiming that mission."
Dr. David Holmes, a congregant, played a key role in the project and will work in the center.
For Gary and Linda Tatu, founders of Harvest House, the building and land around it will become the Harvest House Ministry Center. It's the start of fulfilling a goal to create a one-stop education and resource center that will offer classes, counseling and referral services.
"We see so many sad cases -- moms as young as 12 years old, pregnant women who have never had a prenatal exam, people who can't read or write. There's so much available to them if they knew where to go," Tatu said.
Among other things, they intend to move their successful Baby and Children's Ministry into the new site. That ministry gives away highchairs, strollers, car seats, playpens and clothing to needy families and has outgrown its space. Last year, it served 2,896 children and this year expects to help 4,000, said Gary Tatu.
The health center was a perfect fit also. Other plans include a furniture bank to collect and give away items through area churches, and a host of educational programs that cover such issues as nutrition, literacy, sexual abuse, grief, and preparation for jobs or college.
"It's amazing. We get an idea and stuff is donated to help us move on it. Or someone donates something and that generates an idea," said Tatu.
A dedication ceremony for the Health Center will take place Dec. 4. Tatu also plans to conduct a tree-planting in the future to commemorate the 1983 propane explosion at the property that leveled the neighborhood and killed seven people, including five Buffalo firefighters.