At some point, you have probably dropped gently used clothing into one of those little red donation bins found across Western New York and reaching nearly to Syracuse. Perhaps like me, you are simply glad your clothing, shoes, and blankets are going to good use, but do you know where your donated items are going? You might be surprised!
The red donation boxes—over 400 of them—all belong to Hearts for the Homeless (Hearts), a nonprofit organization Tonawanda Street in Buffalo. Hearts stated mission is to be a mobile soup kitchen that feeds the poor and homeless on the street, characterized by a profound spiritual motivation. In doing so, Hearts offers nourishing food, as well as winter clothing, pertinent information regarding area services, companionship, and hope for the future.
Hearts was founded in 1990 on Christmas Eve as an outreach and feeding program, including a motor home which was the beginnings of its Mobile Soup Kitchen outreach. The ministry grew quickly, adding its reading program in 1991 and its first thrift store in 1996. Ultimately, Hearts would open two more thrift stores before merging them all into a larger one, Hearts Thrift Shop, in 1999 at its present location.
Hearts Thrift Shop serves a dual purpose. Not only does it provide the community with gently used, quality clothing along with personal care items, toiletries, jewelry, toys, housewares, games, and free books, but also, after expenses, it uses all proceeds from Hearts Thrift Shop to support the operation of its Mobile Soup Kitchen and Hearts Harvest Pantry and Café. This is one of the primary ways that Hearts for the Homeless is able to fund its outreach.
Heart’s impact has become quite extensive. The nonprofit served over 13,000 of Buffalo’s poor and homeless in 2019 and are on track to serve even more of those in need this year. With more people out of work due to the coronavirus, Hearts for the Homeless and its outreach have been more critical than ever before.
Christmastime is always one of the busiest times of the year for Hearts, but this year, it is even more special. On Christmas Eve, 2020, Hearts for the Homeless celebrated its 30th anniversary. Not only did they serve Buffalo’s poor and homeless at their annual Christmas Eve dinner, but they also continued their tradition of playing Santa. An excerpt from their newsletter explains.
All through the Christmas season, the phones and doorbells continuously ring with people who want to make an impact on those who are underprivileged. Several churches and the Boy Scouts donate toys and gifts to be handed out to needy families via our thrift shop. The surprise on the faces of parents that were coming in with hope to buy a thrift item to put under the tree is that of immeasurable joy when they are asked if they would like to pick out brand new gifts at no charge! This is a favorite time for our thrift shop staff.
Hearts for the Homeless plans to go on serving the Buffalo community while continuing to pursue its dream of opening a Harvest Pantry & Café as yet another way to serve those in need while raising funds to continue their ministry. Donating gently used clothing, shoes, and household items allows many of us to be a small part of the incredible work they do. The next time you put a bag in one of these bins, know that this local effort truly is helping those in need: our neighbors in Buffalo.