BUFFALO, N.Y. — Amy Betros likes to say God is in charge at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy and she's just his secretary.
"It's not work to me, it's my life," Betros said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't love what I do."
After a 1992 trip to Fatima, Portugal, in which Betros says she heard her calling, she sold her Buffalo restaurant Amy's Place and bought the mothballed St. Luke's Church and buildings on Buffalo's East Side and opened the mission with her friend Norm Paolini in 1994.
She says it's not a soup kitchen or homeless shelter- it's a mission.
"Here we are, it's going to be 28 years and we're still doing it. This is God's place," said Betros. "We knew we were going to base it on the works of mercy - feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the stranger, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Seven corporal works of mercy and that's what the whole mission's based on."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for daily meals went from about 300 meals per day to 1,100 meals per day as of March 2020. Missionaries, associates, and volunteers to serve the poor. The Mission, located at 325 Walden Avenue, has no paid employees. St. Luke's doesn't get any funding from the Catholic Diocese or the government, so they rely completely on donations to do their work.
In addition to serving two meals per day to people who need them, St. Luke's opens its food pantry once per week to send families home with bags of food. St. Luke's Mission Mall provides clothing and household items for free. The baby room has diapers and formula and other baby supplies. And under Betros' leadership, 23 homes on the East Side were given to St. Luke's and they built six more with a seventh currently being constructed in Gospa Village, where mothers and their children can develop skills they need for independence. Betros is in the midst another huge undertaking, a project called Build Promise, in which the mission is acquiring land across the street and building a facility that holds 120 men. She also wants to start a food truck.
St. Luke's Mission of Mercy has a school, too. Twenty students who have gone through the program have gone on to graduate from college. Mike Taheri, a local criminal defense attorney, is the director of the education program at St. Luke's and he says Betros' selflessness in all of this changes lives.
"Amy's about the sacrifice. She's not about being a volunteer. She sacrifices her life everyday for the good of this community and she's relentless in serving God. Jesus lives in Amy Betros," Taheri said.
Rev. Jack Mattimore, the chaplain of Canisius College, says Betros' gifts go well beyond the physical food and clothing and shelter. Her offerings of empathy and compassion are what set her apart.
"People come to her who are feeling unloved and forgotten and she just has a warmth about her," said Father Jack. "She's a determined, driven woman and she does it all for God. She shrinks away from talking about herself, but it's God using her as she is, with the gifts that she has."
She says she doesn't get tired because she doesn't take it on. She said God works through her. All services at St. Luke's are offered freely to all people, of all religions, creeds and statuses.
"Anyone who comes to our door we serve. It doesn't matter where you are, where you live and you don't need to fill out a million forms to get it. Everything we do is from Jesus with love," she said.
No one has to participate in religious activities to receive help and little to no paperwork is needed for services.
Betros rarely slows down, but she was forced to in January when she was hospitalized with pneumonia. She spent that time in prayer for those who need St. Luke's.
"I believe with all my heart anybody who steps foot on St. Luke's ground, this Holy ground, whether they come to get help or they come to help will be blessed and their lives will change," she said.
EWTN, a global Catholic television and radio enterprise, will focus on St. Luke's Mission of Mercy and Betros, on Ash Wednesday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m.
To learn more about St. Luke's Mission of Mercy, click here.
To see others featured in WGRZ's "Selfless Among Us" series by Melissa Holmes, click on the links below.