With the same spirit of community that the town's Ebenezer forefathers might have exhibited nearly two centuries ago, West Seneca residents crowded under an old walnut tree off Seneca Street last week, celebrating their collective accomplishment.
The accomplishment was the grand opening of the expanded West Seneca Community Food Pantry behind St. David's Episcopal Church at 3951 Seneca St. A 1,200-square-foot addition is now open at the food pantry, which serves 120 to 150 needy families every month.
"It was a true community project," said Mary Lou Dietrich, food pantry director. "I just never knew how much it meant to people."
That became clear to Dietrich, she said, when she could hardly go anywhere without someone giving her large sums of money or offering help to the 34-year-old West Seneca charitable organization.
Dietrich, at this week's ribbon-cutting ceremony, told a story of going to pick up a pizza and walking out with a gift of a few hundred dollars for the food pantry.
"I really didn't have to ask [for help]; it just came to me," Dietrich said. "This town has a heart."
One after another, contractors approached Dietrich, volunteering time and materials.
Kaz Brothers Construction sent nearly two dozen men to erect the frame of the addition.
Monaco Flooring laid in carpet.
Country Peddlers Landscaping offered $1,100 worth of shrubs.
Moyer Electric & Sign, TFS Mechanical Heating/Air Conditioning and others also stepped up to help with electric, heating and various technical installations in the building.
Five community service organizations - Lions Club, Kiwanis, Rotary International, the West Seneca Women's Club and the Masonic Lodge - quickly jumped on board, as did West Seneca Central and area parochial schools.
A local Eagle Scout, Hunter Bischoff, made the effort his special service project. Hunter volunteers his time to assemble and move furniture, help with set up and any other odd jobs.
Area churches and religious education programs volunteered to help. Nearby Southgate Plaza donated storage space and snow plowing.
"Once again, this community showed a remarkable generosity of spirit, faith and trust," said Allen Farabee, vicar at St. David's at the opening. "This is our property, built with your help and funds."
Then, there are the volunteers. Dietrich said she feels blessed because they're so abundant in numbers and charitable in spirit that she often can't find jobs for all of them.
"I have almost every original volunteer," she said. "People have been there 20 to 25 years.
"When [new] people call to volunteer, I can't bump anybody off."
Dietrich said blessings often result from tough times.
The food pantry, which began at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church at Seneca Street and Harlem Road and then relocated to St. William's Church on Harlem Road, was displaced after church consolidations. It found a home just a few years ago in a small house behind St. David's.
Not only was the location inaccessible for handicapped patrons and too small, the furnace quit on the food pantry last November. That prompted the Buffalo News' Neediest Fund to get involved.
"It just brought so much attention to us," Dietrich said. "We realized then what we meant to our community."
An anonymous donor stepped forward and paid the bill for the furnace. Other money also came rolling in, according to Dietrich, so much so that the food pantry used some extra funds to do roof repairs and install gutters. It even put some aside in a rainy day fund.
"We realized we were growing, and we needed to be handicapped accessible and needed more space," said Dietrich.
Besides food, the pantry also offers registered patrons a once-a-month nutrition class, flu shots and blood-pressure checks.
It's a "shop-through" pantry. Needy families who live in West Seneca, have children in the town or belong to a church there can register to attend the pantry and collect the food they need for the month.
The pantry partners with the Food Bank of Western New York, which also assists by providing produce and perishable items once every month, Dietrich said.
Meanwhile, food pantry organizers say they're also focused on efforts toward building "a sustainable future." They believe getting West Seneca's youth - whether by school, local scouting organizations or other groups - actively involved in helping at the food pantry assures that West Seneca's needy will be taken care of for years to come.