A year ago, I started to volunteer at a Church on the East Side of Buffalo, the poorest and most segregated section of town rife with a high crime rate, violence, drug trafficking, and prostitution. And right in the middle of it all is St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.
St. Luke’s was an abandoned Catholic Church twenty-five years ago that had become empty and useless after the Polish immigrants who built it in 1930 left for the suburbs. Into this void cam Amy Betros, a big woman, with an even bigger smile and hug, who owned a restaurant where college students hung out. Amy decided, moved by something deep inside her, to chuck it all and do something for the poorest of the poor.
So, she sold her restaurant and together with a guy named Norm Paolini, bought the broken-down church. It quickly became a place where people could go to sleep on the church’s floor to get out of the elements and get some hot food. But just as important, that got some food for their souls. They got big servings of hope and seconds if they wished.
St. Luke’s has since grown into a huge community with an elementary school, a food and clothing shelter, and one of two “code blue” places where desperate street people can go to find warmth and a cot to sleep in the transformed for the emergency school cafeteria.