By Joshua Maloni
Mountains of pillows and a roomful of toiletries greeted Passage House Domestic Violence Services staff when they arrived at the City of Niagara Falls Department of Public Works on Monday afternoon. For the past six weeks, United Steelworkers Local No. 9434 and Women of Steel have collected shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, combs, pillows and sheets for the Family & Children's Service of Niagara program. Most items were purchased and donated, while others were handmade and personally delivered.
"We're very grateful to be able to present these to you," said Brook D'Angelo, Women of Steel chairwoman. Collection baskets were placed at the DPW; city clerk's office and departments of human resources, community development, fire administration, water board and wastewater; and the Main Street library. "All of these departments came together as one to collect as much as they could."
"This means a lot," Passage House Director Larissa Bachman said. "We have people who come through who are survivors of domestic violence. Sometimes they're coming in the middle of the night; sometimes they're coming in the day; and they have nothing. They'll take whatever they can, which is usually the clothes on their back. Sometimes they have some personal items, but nothing like this. Because, when you think of leaving, the last thing on your mind is shampoo and things like that. Even a pillow to sleep on is extremely important.
"This is going to help a lot of people."
Passage House is a 15-bed domestic violence shelter serving Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and western Niagara County. Its website states the agency "provides free emergency shelter in a confidential location to individuals who are victims of domestic violence and their children. The shelter is staffed 24/7 and someone is available to respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence and their children any time of the day or night."
Bachman said, "We've been the busiest we've ever been. We have more on-calls. We have more clients."
Now in its 25th year, the shelter staff has helped more than 120 people in 2017, while responding to more than 550 phone calls.
D'Angelo said it was "heartbreaking" to learn of the need within the community.
"I want to make sure that every woman and every child has a pillow," she said.
"We are grateful for Passage House and all they do to serve our community. We look forward to working with them again in the future," D'Angelo said. "This is one of those collections where need truly knows no season. We hope that our efforts will supply the women and children of Passage House with comforts of home for months to come."
She noted 160 pillows were collected - up from 35 in 2016 - and "thousands" of toiletries were boxed and ready to be delivered.
Bachman said, "We're just very appreciative. This is going to help a lot of survivors and families - people who come through our doors and really utilize our services."
She added, "We're a nonprofit, so we survive on donations and the community coming together. That's why we're so appreciative, because we all have the same message and hope going forward that we can help survivors. We wouldn't be able to do it without our community partners. This is just a great example of how awesome they are."
To make a donation to Passage House, visit http://niagarafamily.org/
or call 716-285-6984. Family & Children's Service of Niagara is located at 1522 Main St., Niagara Falls.
For those in need, the confidential domestic violence hotline is 716-299-0909.
"That's a 24-hour hotline," Bachman said. "Somebody who's in crisis can call; somebody who has a question can call; someone who's calling just for information or anything like that."
Brook D'Angelo with a handmade sheet that reads, "The Women of Steel of Local 9434 wish you a cozy sleep!"
Organizing the items before shipping.