On a cold, rainy and snowy Dec. 14, the Kiwanis Club of Niagara-Wheatfield assisted the Salvation Army’s bell-ringing campaign. Members greeted customers at the Sanborn Tops Market as they entered the market and wished them a merry Christmas as they left, offering candies and candy canes for those who wished. It was a busy five hours of receiving donations. The Kiwanians also aided the Tops employees by retrieving baskets from the wet, slushy parking area.
This is one of the most high-profile good works the group performs, but not all initiatives are done so visibly. One that isn’t as well-known is the Kiwanis Club’s annual Safe Passage project, chaired by Suzy Pembleton and aimed at helping those escaping an abusive relationship and living in a shelter.
“There were two things that made me want to do this,” Pembleton said. “The first thing was we had a toy drive for the Kiwanis and the gifts that we received, honestly, they looked like gifts people would throw out at the end of a garage sale. … It was really sad. I literally went home and cried, because the gifts were so bad.
“But I decided you aren’t doing anything if you just cry about it and not change it.”
The second reason, Pembleton said, was her daughter, who was going through counseling during her own abusive relationship. Pembleton said that, without strong family support, her daughter would have been using the shelter.
“If she didn’t have a family close by, she probably would’ve been in a shelter. We were very blessed,” Pembleton said, noting her daughter left her abuser. She described what it was like to be a bystander during that struggle. “You’re kind of helpless because you can do all you want, but at the end of the day, they have to.”
Larissa Bachman, director of Passage House, echoed Pembleton’s remarks.
“It’s what the survivor considers is happy,” she said as to the outcome for survivors of domestic violence. “Sometimes the choice is to go back to their situations, because that is the safest, or that is the most appropriate for them at that time. We always support any individual in that. What we think is a best outcome for them isn’t always what their best outcome is. We’re always making sure we’re not defining that as one or two things. We ask, ‘What’s your goal?’ and we help them to get to their goal.”
Collecting personal items, towels, soaps, cleaning items, socks, underwear and other basic necessities, Pembleton and the Kiwanis gather what someone would need to start over. Also, it being Christmas, the children in the shelter receive a gift they personally requested.
“They give me the list of the things they want, and I go shopping,” Pembleton said. “For the most part, I think they’ve all gotten the toys they asked for.”
“So far, January through November, not including the month of December, Passage has answered 468 crisis hotline calls,” Bachman said. “We’ve helped 77 adults at the shelter and 60 children.”
“Our shelter opened in 1989, and was the first domestic violence shelter in the county,” Bachman said. “Currently, we are the only domestic violence shelter in Niagara Falls. There is also the YWCA in Lockport for east Niagara County. … We have a 24-hour hotline that people can call for information. It comes directly to our shelter and there’s always staff there to answer it.”
The hotline number is 716-299-0909.
In other news, President Susan Smith inducted three new members into the Kiwanis Club of Niagara-Wheatfield. Danny Maerten sponsored Liz McNally on Thursday, Dec. 5, while Maerten also sponsored Carol and Karl Maggiore, on Dec. 12.
The annual pancake breakfast and basket raffle is scheduled for Sunday, March 29, and the second annual Shred-it document-shredding event is being planed for Saturday, April 4.
For questions regarding membership, assisting or events, contact Maerten at 716-731-3696, [email protected], or attend the club’s dinner at Solidays at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.