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How Rochester's House of Mercy Helps the Hungry and Homeless During the Pandemic — and Beyond

How Rochester's House of Mercy Helps the Hungry and Homeless During the Pandemic — and Beyond


The pandemic is slowly beginning to subside, but the work goes on at theHouse of Mercy in Rochester, New York. Under the guidance of the venerable Sister Grace Miller, the staff and volunteers at this shelter/soup kitchen/resource center has maintained its service to the community during an extremely challenging time. 

Adjustments have had to be made for health and safety, but the mission has remained strong. The 82-bed shelter was temporarily closed and in-person visits were restricted, but there is light at the end of this harrowing tunnel. "We continue to have challenges, but things are going really well," says Kate R. Schnittman, a House of Mercy board member. "Our capacity is up. We have around 60-65 people lodging in the shelter now. Our kitchen is still distributing food outside of our gates. We haven't totally opened up the soup kitchen."

House of Mercy — one of the incredible impact partners Nunbelievable works with across the country — was founded in 1985 by Sister Grace, who recognized a lack of support for those struggling in her Western New York community. Over the yearsthe organization has grown tremendously, providing food, shelter, clothing, substance abuse treatment, spiritual services, advocacy assistance, drop-in emergency services, and just about anything else their clients need. Over the past 35-plus years, House of Mercy has provided more than 540,000 shelter nights and improved the lives of countless visitors.

During the pandemic, there was no shortage of need. The kitchen provided more than 75,000 hot meals in 2020 and staff and volunteers drove more than 95,000 miles to deliver groceries, drop off/pick up essential items, and help clients get to appointments. And, of course, the team remained dedicated to defeating the virus. "I would say that our biggest shining moment through this pandemic was that we vaccinated almost 200 homeless people," Schnittman says. "We felt like the best way to fight COVID was to vaccinate." House of Mercy's guest coordinator, Sister Rita Lewis, is also a registered nurse, and she is overseeing the vaccination and testing program. 

Even as the crisis (slowly) eases up, there are serious concerns ahead. Rochester is already one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the United States, and there is a vulnerable population of hungry and homeless people who were struggling to get by even before we knew what a coronavirus was. With special pandemic-related social support benefits like the eviction moratorium set to expire in the coming months, there is likely to be an increase in homelessness. "We are looking to find ways that we can help people with that rent so they can sustain themselves," Schnittman says. "As part of that we will be ramping up other kinds of support to people outside of the shelter. We'll help people pay their utility bills, we'll help them with their cell phone bills. We also have a program that helps people find work. We'll pay for transportation."

House of Mercy's impact can be seen in the example of a local woman named Tilly. She has struggled with homelessness for several years and came seeking shelter and support. Soon she began volunteering as well and was back on her feet. This spring she was able to move into her own apartment and celebrated with her House of Mercy friends, who had offered her a much-needed sense of community and love. "That's really the way it goes here," Schnittman says. "House of Mercy is a community. So many times people just need to find purpose to find a place to be loved and a place to be a part of something. And she needed that. And she was here just to stay engaged with her family."

Providing all these various services requires resources. There is an urgent need for volunteers (who must be vaccinated) to help out in the kitchen and throughout the organization. If you live in the area and can give your time, you can find more details on how to helphere.

And, of course, financial assistance is invaluable. Nunbelievable is proud to work with House of Mercy as one of our impact partners. For every cookie we sell we make a donation to provide a meal for someone in need. In addition to showing your support bybuying our delicious, wholesome cookies, we also encourage you to make a contribution if you are able. Clickhere to donate to House of Mercy, and you can also purchase much-needed items for them via theirAmazon Wish List


Follow the inspiring work of the House of Mercy onFacebook,Twitter, andInstagram.

Nunbelievable Inc.

Nunbelievable Inc.