LOCKPORT - The anti-poverty program operated by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Lockport has changed its name to make it clear that it is able to help the needy outside that parish and that city.
The name change to Community Outreach at St. John's, announced by director Michael Boron, also could make it easier to bring in funding from outside sources.
St. John's Outreach began in 1983 as Sister Helen's Food Pantry, and the pantry has since been augmented by distributions of used clothing, furniture and other household items. The operation is headquartered in the former parish school on Chestnut Street in Lockport, next to the church.
Boron has a team of about 70 volunteers, about two-thirds of whom are parishioners. St. John's is the largest Catholic parish in eastern Niagara County, and Outreach is regarded as one of the largest nongovernmental anti-poverty programs in the county.
Outreach never has excluded the needy from outside the St. John's parish boundaries or from outside Lockport, Boron said Monday. "We service anyone in the community who has a bona fide need," he said. "We don't care where they come from. We don't care if they're churched or not churched."
He said many of those assisted by Outreach are referred by other local human services agencies.
The program serves about 11,100 people per year with basic clothing needs, and about 7,800 per year received food distributions from the pantry. Most of the food comes from the Food Bank of Western New York, but the clothing generally is donated by the public. More than 1,000 furniture deliveries also have been made, and 49,500 diapers are distributed annually. An upcoming program will offer financial counseling.
"Given the needs we're facing in the community in terms of poverty in general, and the resources available to us, we need to increase the resources available to us to properly service the needs going forward," Boron said. "The goal of this was to put a more generic name on the ministry and then to take steps specifically to approach various stakeholders in the community to become more involved with us as we service the low-income population."
Community Outreach at St. John's has been receiving support for the past two years from The Chapel, the nondenominational church that took over the former St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lockport after it was closed by the Diocese of Buffalo. Boron said he's been contacted by members of two other congregations, which he declined to identify because he's not sure their pastors are on board with the idea.
The service area extends from Sanborn to the Niagara-Orleans County line, and from Lake Ontario to Tonawanda Creek, thus covering about two-thirds of Niagara County. In that area, Boron said, there are more than two dozen Christian congregations. "Our plan is to reach out to a number of them and seek to engage them on a cooperative basis to help us to service the community better overall," Boron said.
St. John's will continue its financial support of the Community Outreach program, which in the past has received some foundation and United Way grants and other public donations. Besides The Chapel and the Food Bank, its list of "blue ribbon" supporters includes Tops Markets, Pizza Hut, Papa Leo's Niagara County Produce and Panera Bread.
The Community Outreach Center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The food pantry and the clothing center make distributions from noon to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.