By Benjamin Joe
The 23rd annual Sweetheart Dinner is trudging through each snowy day of the winter calendar to wow the community by showing them an enjoyable evening at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at the Sheraton Niagara Falls.
Just a week from Valentines Day, it could be a good preview of what’s to come for couples, as well as a chance to give to a good cause – Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier – not to mention enjoy the amenities of the night.
“We want to make sure that people have a good time, certainly,” said Christian Hoffman, director of public relations and development. “Good food, a great venue, and then a chance to walk away with something, and, of course helping Community Missions out.”
The Sweetheart Dinner is Community Missions’ biggest fundraiser for the year. It includes cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner a 7 p.m., as well as 120 baskets, raffles, door prizes, a silent auction and music. Tickets are $75 per person ($560 for a table of eight), and according to Hoffman, there are only five or six tables left as of the beginning of the week.
Some of the ways the organization uses the proceeds from the night are traditional crisis and community services such as emergency housing, the soup kitchen, food pantry, furniture giveaways, patrol re-entry, Mark’s Place (an HIV/AIDS residence) and Niagara County Rapid Rehousing programs.
“Community Missions was founded back in 1925 on the principles of soup, soap and salvation,” Hoffman said. “People would be able to come in, have something to eat, someplace safe to stay the night, and then the opportunity to hear the good word. That was our major focus – an emergency housing or homeless shelter – for the first 40 or 50 years of the organization. Then we started to branch out and offer other services.
“Mental health, in particular, is where the majority of our services come in.”
Hoffman explained the organization’s stance on mental health and how it differs from Crisis Services.
“We started basically at that crisis, emergency housing, and then from there, several years later, we started to develop that mental piece,” he said. “It is a great, initial step when somebody comes in and doesn’t have someplace to stay for the night, or doesn’t have the opportunity of knowing where their next meal is coming from. We do have those services that we can wrap around them and make sure they are taken care of.
“But many times, somebody that finds themselves in that situation does have a mental health situation, whether that be diagnosed or undiagnosed. Being able to have all those services under one umbrella is fantastic for us. What that looks like is somebody shows up, in any way they come to us, and has no place to stay. We’ll move them into one of our homeless shelter beds and – as we get to know them over the next day or two – work with them. Either we can understand they may have something going on with mental health … and we can usher them into our mental health programs that would better suit their needs.”
Hoffman said the mental health programs include residential services, as well as non-residential, which are called “recovery services.”
“That is transportation. It is also a day program that we have in downtown Niagara Falls that people can come into for the day and spend their time to work through goals, but go to wherever they live on their own,” he said. “We also do a rest program, which is a very short-term stay where they can stay with us for up to 14 days.”
Hoffman also talked about the spiritual side of recovery.
“We are a Christian organization,” he said. “We are ecumenical and interfaith. That means we don’t have a certain sect or denomination that we identify with. We believe that recovery, whatever that looks like, whether that be a mental health recovery, or a drug or addiction issue, we believe that recovery does include some sort of spirituality.”
Hoffman said, “We identify as Christian, but we are certainly interfaith, as well. If you do not practice Christianity, that is not a concern. We will still help you; you are still welcome to be here; but we will try to connect you in, whether it be Muslim, Hindu or Judaism, something along those lines. We have a pastor here who is able to work through and connect you in with whatever faith group that you identify with.”
About 5,000 individuals are helped by Community Missions each year. Most of those who are helped are in Niagara Falls.
For those who want to go beyond buying a ticket to a dinner, Community Missions is offering the chance for individuals, businesses and other agencies to sponsor the dinner. Such donors are given privileges – on a sliding scale – such as naming rights to the event, addressing the audience and presenting material on an informational table. Program participants are also on hand to tell all the donors, not just sponsors, but individual ticketholders, as well, about how their donation helped them.
“At the dinner we do have a guest or two; one of our program participants stands up and talk a little bit about their experience with Community Missions, which is well received by the attendees,” Hoffman said. “That’ll be the case once again this year. We are working together with a couple of people who we’re going to have speaking there that evening. That’ll be the main take-away on the program.”
For more information on the Sweetheart Dinner, contact Susan Dunlap Falbo at 716-285-3403, ext. 2225.