Little Portion Friary lives out mission of serving homeless

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Thu, May 19th 2016 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
People like John Zalenski receive the help they need through the special ministry of Little Portion Friary in Buffalo. (Kimberlee Sabshin)
People like John Zalenski receive the help they need through the special ministry of Little Portion Friary in Buffalo. (Kimberlee Sabshin)

At Little Portion Friary in Buffalo, a team of 100-plus volunteers lives the mission of the Catholic Church to provide food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, and shelter for the homeless.

The home, a temporary shelter for homeless men and women 18 years of age and older, provides guests with breakfast and dinner, clothing, guidance and assistance programs, and basic household necessities, according to one volunteer, who asked that his name not be used.

Little Portion Friary consists first and foremost of the group of men and women who lend their assistance to the shelter. There is no director or any organized leadership with any one person in charge, as they all work together as a team.

"I sort of guide the ship in a couple of areas. Others guide the ship in other areas," the volunteer said.

The shelter opened in 1982, as made possible by the efforts of Deacon John Gainey and Father Alexius Mulrenan, OFM, who wanted to "create an environment where people could come and volunteer and be serviced in a very one-on-one basis with those in need." The mission was to create an organization to allow the homeless to live in dignity and allow volunteers to share their gifts with those in need.

The volunteer explained the difference between philanthropy and charity, noting Little Portion Friary primarily serves to fulfill the function of the latter means of giving to society, as opposed to the former. He defined "philanthropy" as a form of giving that is more impersonal and does not necessarily mean a personal connection with people being served.

Philanthropy is a "more institutional, big-picture cousin" of charity, the volunteer said. Charity is service with a "personal and direct connection to those in need."

"We are a model of what we would call Christian charity," the volunteer added. "When one is helping people, there are two different ways to do it - one is through philanthropy, and one is through charity. Because we come to that one-on-one interaction with the guests, we are truly an organization of charity."

Volunteers take on responsibilities in groups of 10 to 12 people, and there is no paid staff aside from security. It depends solely on the donations of private individuals and organizations and does not accept government grants. It is helped by the Western New York food bank, which receives federal grants. This is where the food, clothing and other items for guests will come from, the volunteer said.

"Catholics, by nature, have really tried to keep charity as a big aspect of their outreach to the poor and suffering. The public sector is really going more toward philanthropy," he added.

While staying at the shelter, guests are required to abide by a set of rules and guidelines, designed to keep operations at the shelter running smoothly and safely. The house is divided into separate men's and women's sides, with guests required to stay in common areas or on sides designated for their own gender.

All guests must be gone from the house between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. They must notify staff if they will be eating elsewhere, staying out later than dinnertime, or will not be returning to the shelter.

Little Portion Friary serves 20 men and eight women for 11 months out of the year, since the shelter is closed in August, when groups come in to help maintain the premises. People can stay for as long as they are working on their plan, and there are volunteers who will work with other agencies to help the guests to move on from this temporary housing situation and find a more permanent, suitable home.

"We get referrals, and we take people at the door. Referrals come from all the agencies," the volunteer said, which include churches in the area and private individuals. "They just know to call us as a resource. Most of the referrals come from crisis services, Matt Urban, Lake Shore, things like that, but I would say a couple of dozen times a year, we get someone at a parish who knows a homeless person."

According to Freddie Miller, one of the men staying at Little Portion Friary, he is remaining there until he finds a more permanent place to stay, and is getting aid from other people as well.

"They're nice people. They help you. They give you two meals a day, breakfast and dinner, a place to sleep," Miller said, noting the guests also do chores to ensure the shelter stays orderly. "They don't get funded like everybody else, so it's hard sometimes. The volunteers, they bring stuff in for us sometimes. They're good people."

"I really appreciate everything they do. They give us breakfast, dinner, and now we get a snack every night at 8 o'clock," said Mark Jozwiak, another one of the guests staying at the shelter. "They don't want you to stay here forever, they want you to find a place, so you do feel the stress of having to find a place, but as far as shelters go in Western New York, this is tops, from people I've talked to."

When asked what the shelter has done for him, John Zalenski, another guest, said, "It saved my life." He noted the volunteers provide him with a clean place to sleep, clean linen every week, showers and laundry service, washing the clothes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Clothes for women are washed every Tuesday and Thursday of each week. As of April, Zalenski said he had been staying at Little Portion Friary for four months.

The Little Portion Friary volunteer said one of the most rewarding things about the shelter is the fact that each volunteers brings his or her gifts to the structure. The most challenging aspect is being required to create a safe and secure environment that protects both the guests and the staff.

"We're from all walks of life, trusting in God's providence. That's why we really don't need a leader. We trust that God will lead us down the right thing. God is our leader," the volunteer said. "God is in each and every other volunteer, so when you start seeing why another volunteer does something, you have to see God and Jesus working in that person before making a judgment on right or wrong."  

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