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NIAGARA FALLS – At least 40 homeless people – many of them veterans of America’s recent wars – were dressed a little warmer Sunday night, and they were a little less hungry because of the generosity of the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission and the religious congregations and individuals who support the mission.

The organization set out to collect about 40 sets of coats, hats and gloves for the needy, but wound up receiving about 200. The surplus left over from Sunday evening’s distribution at the mission, 1023 Ferry Ave., will be sent on to the Veterans Home Outreach program and to other charities.

John A. Cooper Jr., organizer of Sunday’s “Operation Warmth,” said, “All veterans deserve to be treated with the utmost respect regardless of their lot in life. We hope that this project will show these veterans that they are not forgotten by their community. We appreciate the many businesses, churches, organizations and individuals who have donated new and used items for this event.”

The clothes were distributed after a free dinner of beef stew, side dishes and dessert delivered by Forest View Church of God on Saunders Settlement Road in the Town of Lewiston. The dinners were delivered by church members Kevin and Tammy Schul and their five children.

John M. Bornhoeft, executive chef at the mission, said about 20 people are served free breakfasts, lunches and dinners there every day – and the mission provided 800 turkey dinners to the less fortunate at Thanksgiving.

“This is the house of God,” Bornhoeft said. “God will provide for anybody in need. We are trying to teach the word of God, because without God there is no world. We plant the seed of God, and He will take care of the rest.”

The chef said various churches and congregations pay for the meals. “We receive no public funding. This is a free house,” he said.

Up to 21 men can sleep overnight in the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, but they must leave each day before they can return later in the day – up to a total of 21 days. “We are trying to break the cycle of homelessness,” Bornhoeft explained.

Mark Hamel, who was injured while serving with the Army’s 101st Airborne, is among those who received warm clothes and a hot meal Sunday. He also is in the discipleship program at the mission.

“There are a great number of homeless veterans in Niagara Falls, and it is sad to see,” Hamel said. “About 45 percent of the homeless served by the mission are veterans of the United States military,” he said.

Hamel said he was homeless and unable to find work because of his injury. “A friend told me about this place, and now I am a disciple here because I want to do something for other veterans. It’s a great blessing.”

Cooper, the organizer who delivered the testimonial at Sunday’s dinner, said, “My goal is to be an Army chaplain. I spent two years in the ROTC at Baptist Bible College in Clark’s Summit, Pa., and I want to finish up there.”

Cooper, who delivers a sermon, preaches or gives a personal testimony every Sunday at the mission, also is a salesman for the Cooper Sign Co. and its Old Glory Flag Division on Porter Road in the Town of Niagara that specializes in American flags – “all of them manufactured in the United States.”

Donations for Sunday’s distribution were sent from as far away as Fort Benning, Ga., and Mountain Home, Ark. Among local donors were members of the 914th Security Forces Division and the 914th Fire Department at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com