Lancaster resident Channon Piwowarczyk used her stimulus check to shop for $200 worth of carefully planned meal items for pantry recipients, as well as food items that work well for those who are homeless, and brought them to the Catholic Charities Russell J. Salvatore Food Pantry and Outreach in Lackawanna. She said she wanted to give back for the help that she received all those years ago, especially now during these tough times.
”I feel like everybody can give a little bit,” she said, adding she remembers what she went through many years ago and that Catholic Charities was there when she desperately needed it. “It all began because someone at Catholic Charities listened to me and what I was going through.”
Thirty-eight years ago, Piwowarczyk found herself pregnant, homeless and without a support system.
“I lost my job after being hospitalized twice due to severe morning sickness, so I wound up losing my apartment. I actually walked to the hospital the night I went into labor,” said Piwowarczyk, who reached out to Catholic Charities shortly after giving birth. The organization helped her secure housing and a job that provided free child care. “They set me up with programs that could help me get on my feet. Since then, I have been paying it forward as much as I can towards Catholic Charities.”
Not only did Catholic Charities help her find an affordable apartment, they provided her first month’s rent and security deposit. Piwowarczyk even met her husband at her new job, Buffalo Envelope Co.
“I believe this was a divine intervention,” said Piwowarczyk. The pair have now been married 38 years. “I’ve never not used what Catholic Charities gave me to the best advantage for my children, for my husband and for others,” said Piwowarczyk.
Today, Piwowarczyk is a special education teacher with Monroe-2 Orleans BOCES. “I reach out to my students all the time, helping them get into college, buying textbooks if they need them, helping them with prom,” said Piwowarczyk, who chose education because of her experiences volunteering at the Language Development Program. “I was so interested in working there that I actually gave the director a job application.” As a result, the director wrote a letter of recommendation so that Piwowarczyk could go back to school and become a special education teacher. Piwowarczyk went on to attend Buffalo State College and won the Bernard Yormak Award for Outstanding Performance in Student Teaching.
During the pandemic, Piwowarczyk continues to put herself second and put the needs of her students first via Zoom. She discusses the challenges of navigating isolation during this time so that her students can freely express their personal struggles in a safe space.
“I have never forgotten the help that I was given.” But Piwowarczyk knows that help is only one piece of overcoming adversity. “You also have to do the work once you’re given the help.”
Piwowarczyk encourages anyone who needs a little help, especially now, to reach out. Help can be found by “going to find a food shelter where you need food, it’s going to a homeless shelter so you have a bed to sleep in at night. It’s all those things that helped out,” said Piwowarczyk, who made it off the streets within eight weeks after giving birth. “That’s how motivated I was.”
Catholic Charities urges clients in need of assistance to call their COVID-19 Helpline at 218-1419. Central intake has a small team of people who are calling clients back and doing assessments over the phone. “We are working closely with Stephanie Mejia, housing supervisor, to ensure that qualifying clients are matched with a program that best suits their needs,” said Kristin Rivera, central intake supervisor. “For employment, we often link clients with temp agencies or organizations that are currently hiring.”
Additionally, Catholic Charities of Buffalo has a Department of Workforce and Education that assists people with job readiness, employment preparation and guidance, as well as obtaining their high school equivalency diploma. Catholic Charities also links students who present a need for child care while taking classes to community partners that help secure child care. Folks in need of assistance with utilities are also invited to call the COVID-19 Helpline. “For needs such as food and hygiene products, clients are served at 525 in a no-contact fashion. We are able to have conversations with them via telephone and interact from a distance when providing resources,” said Rivera.
“With additional funding available to central intake due to COVID-19, we are able to assist with utilities and transportation costs until the end of June,” said Rivera. “Transportation is not usually in our wheelhouse, but new funds will allow us to assist those eligible in the community in different ways as we all navigate this unusual environment. Clients can access these types of assistance through the COVID-19 Helpline as well.”
Catholic Charities of Buffalo stands ready to help anyone in need across the eight counties of Western New York. To start the process, please call their COVID-19 Helpline at 218-1419.
The Catholic Charities pantry in Lackawanna has been in operation since December 1991. In total, Catholic Charities has seven food pantries in Erie County. More information about those can be found at ccwny.org/food. Due to the pandemic, pantries have been designated as emergency relief pantries, meaning anyone can come to them regardless of residency.
The hours for the Russell J. Salvatore Food Pantry and Outreach are from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.
[This story written by Falisha Oser appeared originally in the Lancaster Bee newspaper and is used with permission.]