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Private human service groups plan Lockport event

LOCKPORT – Four of Lockport’s largest churches and several other organizations, many of them faith-based, are planning an event Saturday to publicize their services.

“Celebrate Lockport,” as the groups have called the gathering, is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. under tents to be set up across from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at Chestnut and McCollum streets. The event will go on rain or shine.

The Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH, has set up the day, inviting a panoply of human service agencies to take part.

The churches include St. John the Baptist, as well as Grace Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian and Lockport United Church of Christ.

“We’ve done a lot of work with them over the past year,” said Michael Boron, director of St. John’s Outreach, the Catholic parish’s service agency. “It was their idea to gather a number of churches and community organizations, and tell the public about services that are available to them that they may not be aware of.”

“Residents don’t know what’s here in the city,” said the Rev. Cynthia Sever, rector of Grace Episcopal. She said there is a need for nongovernmental, not-for-profit organizations “to share space and work collaboratively.”

She said a recent John R. Oishei Foundation report on human service agencies showed there are scores of them in the region, “and yet the poor are still falling through the cracks. The social service agencies don’t work collaboratively. That’s not the model that has been set over the years.”

Lockport has a poverty rate of about 35 percent, and Saturday’s event, aimed at those who need some form of assistance, is an early step toward addressing the problem. “We want to let people know what we have to offer,” Sever said.

One of the new groups scheduled to attend Saturday – new to Niagara County, at least – is Hearts and Hands Faith in Action, an Erie County not-for-profit making its first steps into Niagara.

Communications coordinator Kathy Sutter said the 11-year-old faith-based program specializes in providing trained volunteers to offer transportation to those who otherwise would be shut in, along with light housekeeping and maintenance work and respite for caregivers.

The services, Sutter said, are meant “for folks who, if they didn’t have these services, wouldn’t be able to stay in their homes.”

So far, Hearts and Hands doesn’t have a Lockport office. Sutter said its Clarence office worker is taking Lockport calls.

“We would primarily like to get the word out in that community that we’re there, and hope to line up some volunteers,” Sutter said.

Sever said Grace Episcopal, which already operates a thrift shop on LaGrange Street, has plans for a Family Center in its church at Genesee and Cottage streets.

“We have a large church campus here, and our bishop asked us to find ways to repurpose the space,” Sever said. “We’re sitting in a neighborhood that some people consider ‘ground zero’ for everything bad that happens in Lockport.”

She said despite the successful Housing Visions project, which bulldozed blighted housing and constructed new apartments on Genesee Street, “There’s still a lot of people that need a lot of help.”

Sever said there have been four incidents of gunfire in the neighborhood since mid-April. “I can tell if it’s been a handgun or a shotgun that’s been fired when I hear shots,” Sever said. “It’s a challenging neighborhood.”

She said by joining forces with the nearby Salvation Army and YWCA of Niagara, along with others in the immediate area, Grace Episcopal could create “a several-block beacon of hope.”

Boron, of St. John’s, said Outreach, headquartered in the parish’s former grammar school, is one of the largest human service agencies in the county, and Sister Helen’s Food Pantry there serves 370 families per month. That’s a 20 percent increase in the last two years.

It also assists with clothing, diapers and personal hygiene products, as well as appliances and furniture, all donated.

Other organizations expected to have a presence at Saturday’s event include Lockport CARES, a faith-based Genesee Street homeless shelter; Fidelis Care; Catholic Charities; Pathstone; Meals on Wheels; the Niagara Community Action Program; CareNet; Just Say Yes; New Beginnings; Youth Mentoring Services and Buffalo Niagara Adapt.