BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Each Monday, we introduce you to a City Shaper- someone who is making a difference in Western New York to make it a better place to live.
This week, we are highlighting the work of a woman who is dedicating her life to helping people in need in a community that's on the rebound.
Amy Betros grew up on Buffalo's West Side. Her parents owned a Lebanese bakery. When Amy grew up, she decided to open up her own restaurant.
"I had Amy's Place, and it was like the hub for everybody,” says Betros.
Amy's Place became a popular gathering place for people seeking help and guidance. But a trip to Fatima, Portugal in 1992 would lead Betros to something even bigger.
"I met Norm Paolini, who was a research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and we started talking, and we realized we both had a great love for the poor," Betros says. "When we came back, we prayed and really felt that we wanted to do something together, and we found out that St. Luke's was for sale."
The Bishop agreed to sell the East Side church and its buildings to Amy and Norm for $200,000. They opened St. Luke's Mission of Mercy in 1994 with a staff of just seven.
"On Mondays and Wednesdays, we would make bags of food and give it to people, and then like on Tuesday and Thursdays, we would open the school up and we would do clothing for people," she says.
Then, St. Luke's started to take people in. Before she knew it, Betros says they were feeding 400 to 600 people in the kitchen twice a day. They transformed the first floor of the former school into a mall where people can “shop” free of charge. Gino Grasso, an Associate Missionary at St. Luke's, showed us around.
"This is our women's room right here. Where twice a week, we open up Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 to 11:45. We move some of these racks out so it looks like a little boutique," says Grasso.
Another room stores the food volunteers package up and give to families on Thursdays. Through generous donations, St. Luke's helps feed 300 families a week.
Hundreds of volunteers show up each Thanksgiving to give 2700 families food.
As Amy got to know her neighbors, another need came up. All of the Catholic schools on the East Side closed. So Amy started a home school. Then she says people started donating houses to St. Luke's. The mission now owns 23 homes.
"How have you seen the needs change through the years and how has the neighborhood changed?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.
"Yeah, when we first got here, there was a lot of violence. I mean, petty violence. Petty stealing," says Betros.
"You know, it changes. It's one house at a time, one person at a time, but it is changing. When we came here people were hopeless. It felt condemned. And hopefully through the years, 23 years we're here now, people hopefully know that there is a way out. And that there is someone who loves them unconditionally."
"Through the years, you've had so many success stories with the children who've gone on to college and have been successful," said Dudzik.
"They'll come back and they'll say we just want to say thank you. Some of them are nurses and some of them got their college degrees like you said. They're all over. I'll be shopping and they'll hear my voice and they'll come running. They'll call me ma, look, do you remember me? I'm going to college now or I just finished and I'm working or they'll bring the kids. Look, we got our kids and we're getting married, and I think God is good," says Betros.
Next, Amy would like to build a new building across the street called St. Joseph's Room at the Inn. It would allow St. Luke's to be part of every Code Blue.
If you know someone who is a City Shaper, email Kelly Dudzik.