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Reaching out to 'the forgotten people'<br> Nuns' mission grows at Response to Love

Twenty-four hours after St. Adalbert's School closed in 1985, the Response to Love Center was born.

And for the last 25 years, three Felician sisters have been serving the "economically deprived, spiritually poor, emotionally battered, the isolated, wounded and broken" from the Kosciuszko Street building on Buffalo's East Side.

Sister Mary Catherine Raczkowski is in charge of the youth program and the baby ministry, while Sister Mary Rose Szymanski works in the intake department and is one of the first people seen by new clients when they come for help.

But the women are extending their reach to include "the forgotten people who have not come forward," said Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, the center's longtime director.

This is the "new direction" of the Catholic Church and the Western New York Holiday Partnership, to respond to all in need, Rzadkiewicz said.

"It's not just low-income families. It's the hidden souls in their homes -- the elderly, the unemployed, the working poor," she said. "They have the right to services, as well, and we want to make sure we can help these people.

"The church believes its mission is to reach out with an option to serve the poor."

Response to Love is a partner of The News Neediest Fund, which provided gifts and food for more than 12,000 families during last year's holiday season.

On the first visit, each client, if they wish, meets with a trained intake volunteer to assess individual or family needs. The volunteers develop a plan for them and provide direct assistance or referral services.

On-site assistance consists of a food pantry and dining program, thrift shop, personal care program and two supply distributions per school year on the first floor.

Since 1996, the food pantry has provided more than 11,400 households with monthly food allocations. The food is purchased from the Western New York Food Bank, and donations are accepted from the community and from parishes all over Western New York.

About 25,000 meals a year are served through the dining program.

Open three days a week, the Response to Love thrift shop sells like-new clothing for adults, children and infants, as well as housewares and furniture.

Through the personal care program, basic items such as deodorant, soap and shampoo are distributed to people in need. So far this year, 242 men, women and children have been assisted, many of whom were victims of fires.

Additional services at Response to Love include a tuition-free GED program, computer training and the WNY AMVETS Career Training Center on the second floor of the building.

Computer training at the "Sisters School" is designed to educate students in business computer applications. The classroom has 20 Internet-connected computers for students to get hands-on experience.

The GED program is equipped with 15 Internet-connected computers. In 2006, a second class was added, bringing total enrollment to 45 students. Each gets a free hot meal daily at the Sisters School.

People who served in the military and want to develop computer skills also can get a helping hand at Response to Love. The WNY AMVETS Career Training Center, which is coordinated by a veteran, is aimed at working with them to secure jobs.

"We did that because my brother is a Vietnam veteran," Rzadkiewicz said of the program for veterans. "I just have so much respect for them."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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