REPURPOSED CHURCH — The Bread of Life Outreach Center is located at 8745 Supervisor Avenue in Colden. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
COLDEN — The Bread of Life Outreach Center in Colden started as a drizzle, continued with a rainbow and soon grew into a mission statement: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and offer fellowship, comfort, support and opportunity to all.
Executive Director Pat Thoman said that when Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church closed four years ago, she and other members of the congregation were “devastated.
We were such a vibrant community, that when the church was closed, we just felt lost,” she said.
Two nuns who lived at the church told Thoman that they wanted to do something to keep the community alive. The nuns told Thoman that God was calling them to do something and the group considered opening a soup kitchen, but soon realized that was not the answer for their local demographic. Finally, the group decided to run a food pantry instead and have the thrift store support the food pantry, to create a completely independent, fundraiser-supported organization.
THE LATEST FASHION — Gabriel’s Closet stocks current styles and fashions for members and the public to peruse.
“We had no idea how we were going to get it together, and I hosted a get-together one summer evening, for about 30 people I knew might support us,” Thoman said. “It was an outdoor party, with all the food out on the deck. It had been raining and, in the early evening, it rained everywhere but on the deck. That was spooky.
“Later, we decided to show a video of what we hoped to do,” Thoman continued. “We all went inside to watch and, when we looked outside afterward, there was a rainbow. That’s when we knew, I think, that we were doing the right thing.”
According to Thoman, signs that the outreach center were headed in the right direction kept on coming.
“We heard that a Wal-Mart in Niagara Falls was going out of business and selling their fixtures at auction,” she explained. “When we went to talk to them, they gave them all to us for less than $100. Whenever we have a need, someone comes through.”
Today, the Bread of Life Outreach Center, a 501(c)(3) operates the food pantry, thrift store and clothing donation room to serve approximately 50 families in Colden and the surrounding area. Although the food pantry has been approved by the Food Bank of Western New York, the center is an independent organization that is not part of the food bank association. Operating under a 10-person board of directors, the center is staffed by approximately 70 volunteers.
Those volunteers come from the local area, other churches, schools, youth groups and as individuals and serve what Thoman called a “diverse purpose,” helping out in the many areas the center needs to operate. Although Thoman said the center has been blessed with many, dedicated workers, they are always looking for new helpers to serve the center’s growing member base.
“The very first day we opened, we had people,” Thoman said. “And the need continues to grow.”
The food pantry is set up like a grocery store, with items on the shelves and shopping carts, “just like at all the other stores,” according to Thoman. Signs on each shelf delineate what items and in what amount each shopper may take, depending on the family’s income level. In addition, the center offers a “meat of the month,” yogurt and eggs donated by local farmers and toiletries and cleaning products, free of charge.
“We really go above and beyond your average food pantry,” Thoman said. “Our mission is to promote dignity, self-worth and the honor system.”
The thrift store, called Gabriel’s Closet after the angel Gabriel from the Bible, stocks what Thoman called “consignment shop quality clothing at thrift store prices.”
Thoman explained that, although the volunteers who sort the clothes do not throw anything away, Gabriel’s Closet only keeps “the very best.
“Clothing must be clean, free of stains, in good condition and in style. The rest gets donated elsewhere,” she noted.
[photo3]A group of volunteers staff a donation room, wherein clothing is sorted by type, season, age and gender and another corps of volunteers iron and fold the clothing, including one 92-year-old volunteer who Thoman said loves to iron.
“We have a group of ladies who really like to iron and others that are very type-A organized,” Thoman said, with a smile. “Everything is kept very much in order.”
In addition to the thrift store and food pantry, Bread of Life Outreach Center hosts events and clubs in the meeting room that used to serve as the church sanctuary, including scrapbooking sessions and yoga classes, as well as fundraisers and seasonal events. There are also books for sale and a book corner for kids.
“Every child goes home with a book,” Thoman said. “The kids can go read the books while the parents shop, too. It makes it easier for everyone and they really enjoy it.”
Last summer, the center hosted its first 22 week-long Colden Community Farmer’s Market, which Thoman said was started to provide fresh produce to the center’s members and the surrounding community. The market also included free coffee and donuts, as well as hot dogs and live music.
“It’s a way to bring the community together and give people a place to gather,” Thoman explained. “It’s more of an event, to give people a chance to visit the center and chat; see what we are all about.”
The center is a non-denominational organization supported by more than 25 local organizations, which also depends on fundraisers and donations to operate. Although the property is rent-free, the organization is still responsible for taxes and utility bills. While food and clothing contributions help stock their shelves, Thoman said the center uses fundraisers to help cover some of those non-tangible necessities.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, the Bread of Life Outreach Center hosted its third annual holiday high tea, a fundraiser Thoman said sold out of its 130 tickets, within a week. The afternoon consisted of a basket auction, a fashion show with clothing from Gabriel’s Closet and tea and homemade pastries, prepared by the center’s volunteers. Tables were waited by tuxedo-clad students from St. Francis High School in Athol Springs.
This year, the center is also selling a cookbook with recipes from its volunteers, including the pastries and baked goods that were served at the high tea.
“People started asking for the recipes and we thought, ‘why not put out a cookbook for people to buy?’ It took us awhile, but it’s finally ready for purchase,” Thoman said. The book went on sale at the center, Dec. 1.
In addition to the high tea, the Bread of Life Outreach Center also hosts a spring rummage sale, partakes in the Colden Community Thanksgiving service and this year, will host an Advent program on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
“We usually do a Christmas service but this year, we decided to do something a little different,” Thoman said. “It will be a nice devotion, with music, to bring in the Christmas season.”
Although the center’s meeting room is available to local groups’ use and the rectory can be used as emergency housing for people in need of a place to stay, short-term, Gabriel’s Closet and the food pantry do have set hours.
The food pantry is open Thursdays, 4 – 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. – noon. Gabriel’s Closet is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Thursdays, 3 – 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Bread of Life Outreach Center is located at 8745 Supervisor Ave. in Colden and can be reached by calling 941-3745 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.