By Michael DePietro
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Community Missions of Niagara Frontier is looking for participants to put their best foot forward and "Walk for Niagara," rain or shine, on Saturday, April 29, at Whirlpool State Park. The annual event helps raise awareness and funds for the nonprofit's crisis and community service programs, which provide clothing, food, shelter and supportive services to those in need.
"It's a really great cause and it's easy to do," said Sunny Pechulis, a Niagara University freshman and Community Missions volunteer who serves as the event's project lead. "We serve so many people from all walks of life everyday, and it really does help out what we do."
"Walk for Niagara" includes an easygoing two-mile walk along the scenic Niagara gorge. In addition to pre-walk coffee and doughnuts, a light lunch will be provided afterward. There will also be a 50/50 raffle along with top prizes and giveaways awarded to the individuals and teams that raise the most funds.
Parking is free, and dogs on leashes are also welcome to attend. There is also a nearby playground for youngsters.
United Healthcare is sponsoring the event, while Jonathan Sandberg of Harmony Fitness Training will be on site before the walk to lead participants in a series of stretches. He also will be available to discuss his services.
Participants are asked to collect sponsorship pledges and donations. Individuals are required to collect a minimum of $20, while teams of five or more people are to collect a minimum of $150. The pledge money is collected along with the submission form at check-in: 10:30 a.m. the day of the walk. Forms and additional information can be found online at www.communitymissions.org. Additionally, participants can visit the site to create a fundraising page and collect donations and pledges electronically.
Currently, the event still has plenty of sponsorship opportunities available for businesses. Interested groups are encouraged to either apply online or to contact Francesca Catanese at 716-285-3503.
Last year, "Walk for Niagara" had more than 100 participants and raised over $7,000 for the faith-based agency. This year, Community Missions would like to see that number improve. The organization has an annual operations budget of $7.5 million.
"We are the largest private provider of basic human needs in Niagara County," said Christian Hoffman, communications and development manager of Community Missions.
The organization's crisis and community services programs offer those in need a range of services, including emergency housing and shelter, food services through a soup kitchen and food pantry, as well as clothing and furniture giveaways. Additionally, Community Missions provides transitional and supportive services to those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as to parolees hoping to re-enter the community after being released from prison.
Those who are unable to attend the walk can still help. Community Missions accepts donations year-round, both online and at the main agency location, 1570 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls. In addition to monetary donations, the organization also accepts food, clothing, household items, toys and furniture.
Hoffman said it's around this time of year that Community Missions could use donations the most.
"Everybody thinks of us at Christmas. ... They don't think about it again until May or June, when they're doing spring-cleaning," he said.
The organization is also regularly looking for volunteers, primarily in the mornings on weekdays.
Community Missions of Niagara Frontier has been one of the most active charitable faces in Niagara County since its inception in 1925. In 2016, the agency provided over 89,000 meals and 11,000 nights of shelter, while providing 6,700 people with clothing.
Michael DePietro is a Niagara University student taking the communication studies department's 120A journalism course.