Citizens and officials gather at Lumber City Church for dedication
By David Yarger
On what could end up being the coldest day of 2018, North Tonawanda citizens and leaders packed into Lumber City Church in the lower level of the Hope Center, 383 Vandervoort St., for the Hope Way dedication.
The city dedicated the section of Vandervoort Street, from Keil Street to Robinson Street as Hope Way, indicating the hopes of expanding and the improvements done to the area.
The press conference Saturday for the event was originally slated to be held outdoors, but due to well below zero wind chills, it was moved into the warm confines of the Hope Center.
Inside, a food truck brought their services into the cafeteria area, selling warm chowder to residents, while Lumber City Coffee Co. sold hot chocolate and coffee.
Around noon the press conference began. Pastor Chad Rieselman started with introductory remarks and then introduced several individuals who planned community initiatives for 2018.
Rieselman praised the work of the recreation center located above the church and all the service they've brought to children in the area.
"You will probably hear basketballs bouncing during this press conference and that to us is music to our ears, because we know that kids are here, they're warm and engaged with amazing leadership and being a life-giving part of our city," Rieselman said.
The first of four initiatives brought up was by Lumber City Church Council member Noelle McLaughlin. McLaughlin's project is the Lumber City moms and kids clothing sale. It gives single mothers in need a chance to purchase clothing for an affordable price. The event is being held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the church.
McLaughlin said, "They'll (mothers) will be given an opportunity to shop in a dignified way from hundreds of brands of new and never used items at prices they can afford."
McLaughlin said the NT Community Hub will also be in attendance that day, meaning dozens of service providers from all over Western New York will be there to connect with the families that could provide benefits to families and improve their way of life.
The initiative is taking donations until Jan. 13 and looking for volunteers to help the shopping experience. Anyone interested, or looking for more information is requested to email [email protected]
Secondly, Courtney Gfroerer presented The Little Free Pantry: North Tonawanda, which is an initiative to help feed people in need.
Gfroerer said, "The Little Free Pantry is a nationwide movement to address immediate and local hunger issues and food needs. The concept entails small, independent handmade food pantries placed in a popular area, where people can take what they need and give what they can."
She also said The Little Free Pantry is different from regular food pantry's and soup kitchens, in that it's open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, and is not staffed by any volunteers and is self-sustaining through organic involvement and volunteers in the community.
Gfroerer noted that statistics show several areas in North Tonawanda are considered food deserts, which are areas that lack access to food. The pantry proposed at the Hope Center is the first of two proposed, with the other being built at Nash Road Church.
Third, Richard Tedeschi presented the proposed Imagine Community Garden. Tedeschi said a specific site has not been determined yet, but there are several options and an official site should be determined in about a month. The garden site will include 25 raised gardens in an H-Garden pod, a perimeter fence and landscaping.
Tedeschi has experience placing community gardens around Western New York, and said there's been changes in the neighborhoods where a garden is placed.
"Our first garden was in the City of Lockport on Washburn and Elmwood, and at the time it was a pretty seedy looking property and we were able to ... develop that site into the community garden site. Over the last four years what we have seen has been backed up in research, but we've anecdotally have seen, where homes nearby; it has nothing to do with the garden, have improved the lands. ... They've cut the grass, they've painted their houses, the houses are getting renovated," Tedeschi said.
He also said that landlords three to four blocks from garden sites have mentioned to renters that there's a community garden they can be a part of. Tedeschi added the group has been able to create relationships with people they wouldn't have had a chance to meet if it wasn't for the gardens.
Tedeschi said in the press conference that he mentioned placing a garden around Oliver Street four years ago, and now that it's going to happen, "It's like being on a surf board and being around this great big wave and you're just thankful that 'wow, I'm so thrilled I can ride on this surf board and do what I enjoy doing.'"
Lastly, Rieselman talked about the Hope Center Lift Project, which will make the Hope Center completely accessible for those in wheelchairs, scooters, or with any type of disability, as well as helping mothers with strollers.
Rieselman said fundraising will be done for the installation of a ramp for the entrance and a wheelchair lift for access to all three floors of the center. Rieselman added that Alderman Austin Tylec is one of the main architects behind the project.
Tylec said, "It's all about accessibility and not leaving anyone behind, so, people have accessibility to the church down here and also the rec center upstairs. It's not a super complicated project. Basically, we're gonna be tearing out a floor or two floors so we can put in a lift that can connect all three levels, and the price right now is estimated to be around $60,000, with the lift and construction of it. ...We just wanna get this place in a better accessibility standpoint. He talked about a ramp also on the outside, because there's a little lip there, so you can imagine it's difficult for people in wheelchairs, seniors or someone with crutches."
Tylec said preliminary drawings should begin towards the end of the month and then, depending on contractors, completion of the project could be anywhere from two to four months.
Mayor Arthur Pappas and Alderman Eric Zadzilka rounded out the conference by expressing their gratitude for the efforts made by citizens and that the city has never stopped hoping for improvements.
Pappas said, "Everywhere around us you see the word 'hope,' you hear the word 'hope,' over and over today. When you think of the word 'hope,' you think 'what is hope, but a desired outcome.' We're looking for a desired outcome or outcomes for certain things, with the expectations that we're going to get them. We're going to get what we want, because they're the right things to be doing.
"There has been hope along the way. Hope constantly to, eventually, we got the Hope Way. And here we are today with Hope Way, with the desire, the expectation, that all the things we are now hoping for, praying for, that are desirable for our youth and community; we're going to go even further. This community is only going to get stronger because of hope and hope along the way."
Zadzilka said, "It's Hope Way, but I think it's a beacon. ... Everyone in this room can contribute to making that our beacon in the city. There's hope in North Tonawanda, there's hope for the church, there's hope for the children, there's hope for the hungry. We need to be part of that. How do we that? Well, we have our volunteers, we have pastor Chad, we have this congregation, we have pastor John Paul, but we need you, we need the city, and we need cooperative efforts here.
"What I think we need to do is tell our friends, and our neighbors that what we have here is not only something that is working, it's a journey that we all need to take part in, and I think we really need to get that out there and that's what Hope Way is all about."
Zadzilka added that the Common Council is going to do everything possible to help improve the quality of life for residents in North Tonawanda, and encouraged everyone to show their love for their city.
Pastor Chad Rieselman speaks at the Hope Way podium on Saturday.