Faith, love & food: How an Orchard Park family created a judgement-free ministry for our special needs community

Often times when you receive a life-changing diagnosis it is when you need the most support. Can you imagine if that diagnosis is what caused you to be alone? This is exactly what happened to Jamie and Daryl Swanson of Orchard Park.

In 2009, their oldest son was diagnosed with autism. They knew very little about it and they were scared. They didn’t know anyone else who was in their same position, and at the time places like Sensational Fun and Fantastic Friends of WNY didn’t exist yet. They felt alone.

Their loneliness only expanded when their second son was also diagnosed with autism. Some people in their lives were uncomfortable with the diagnosis and found it easier to walk away from their lives. It was very hard on the Swanson’s to see these people not make the extra effort to get to know each child’s unique personalities.

Society wasn’t much better. On a recent episode of the Be A Superhero Project Podcast, Jamie describes a scenario of people seeing your kids having a meltdown in the store.

“People are quick to judge and just assume you are a bad parent and walk away. They don’t realize there is more to the story.”

With family, friends and even society ostracizing them; they turned to the one thing that never left them… their faith. Jamie says they prayed daily for a sign to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. They were looking for anything to help them get through everyday struggles. A sign came to them in an obvious but often overlooked place; their pantry. You see their children all have special dietary needs. On top of this, Jamie did not want her children to grow up eating processed food.

Unfortunately, in the United States, it costs more to eat healthy than it does to eat unhealthily.  The cost of healthy food, on top of the cost for the therapies needed for their children, was nearly crippling.
Jamie and Daryl started wondering if other families with special needs were facing a similar dilemma of the everyday struggle. They decided to test their theory.

Their first goal was to create a judgment-free location where special needs families could come and get healthy food for free. So they partnered with the Trooper Brinkerhoff Foundation and created the Bountiful Loaves & Fishes Love Ministry. They received a donation of food from a few vendors and put it out on Facebook that anyone in the special needs community could come and shop through the donated food for free!

The response was overwhelming. Word of their ministry grew rapidly. Every time they receive a donation of food it is gone within hours of them posting about it. Jamie was hoping to help positively change the lives of others with their ministry, but she received a big surprise in return.

“I thought we would be blessing many other families by doing this, but I didn’t think our world would be blessed in return. The hugs, smiles, and tears I have received from the families we have helped have blessed me greatly,” Jamie said.

As amazing as their ministry is, it wasn’t enough for Jamie and Daryl. They knew all too well that raising children with special needs is a never-ending job. They decided the next step for their ministry was to host events for the special needs community that included food. To date, they have held a family picnic, BBQ for the Dads and a Christmas Party where Santa made a special appearance! These events are a safe place where our special needs community can come and enjoy themselves without worrying about being judged. It also allows them to network with each other and realizes they are not alone. Their next event is just for Mom’s and will be held on April 27.

“A mother came up to me and said our Christmas party was the best party she had ever been to,” said Jamie fighting back some tears.

The Swanson family started out very lonely and depression was setting in. Instead of giving up they kept their faith and battled through the hardships to create the Bountiful Loaves & Fishes Love Ministry. Times are still tough, but they are no longer alone. They have created a community that can rely on each other. They created the support system they always felt they needed.

With the rapid growth of their cause, they are running into more hurdles. They need more help and this time they are asking WNY for it! They went on the Be A Superhero Project Podcast to get their message out to more special needs families and to bring awareness to the rest of WNY. Their current needs include a facility large enough to run the ministry out of. Their goal is to bring in commercial freezers and proper shelving so it is easier for the families to pick up the food.

They are looking for anyone with grant writing experience to help them apply for funding to help them expand. They are also looking for more vendors willing to donate food. Lastly, they are looking for volunteers to help with food distribution and their events. If you or anyone you know can help or needs help, please join their Facebook groups below. If you would like to listen to their story, you may do so here.

If you have a child with special needs, please visit this Facebook group, so they can bless you. And if you would like to volunteer, click here.

For more information on the Be A Superhero Project, visit www.buzzsprout.com/214488. 

Thank you to Giovanni Mion for submitting this story. Be sure to like Be A Superhero Project on Facebook.

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