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Buffalo Township woman spreads warmth through charity

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Denise Lavenets and her son, Richard, in front of one of the collection bins for the Treasures in Darkness charity at the Expressway Baptist Church in Buffalo Township on Friday, December 27, 2013. Lavenets started the Treasures in Darkness ministry in 2011 to collect coats and other winter gear for the needy.

Denise Lavenets believes her mission to help the less fortunate ultimately helped reverse her own fortunes.

The Buffalo Township woman said she was brought low by a life-threatening illness two years ago.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. She was depressed, couldn't work and didn't have a car.

But amid the darkness, Lavenets believes she was led to reach out to others by collecting items for the homeless, poor and others who have fallen on hard times.

“Through prayer, I believe the Lord guided me to start a blanket and coat drive,” said Lavenets, 48. “It's brought so much light, so much hope into my life.”

Lavenets said she started the ministry that would become “Treasures in Darkness” with the help of Serena Buday of Tarentum, then a student at Highlands High School.

The two met by chance and soon were collaborating to set up collection sites at area stores.

Both were surprised by the response.

“The first year we did it, her whole house was filled (with boxes of donations),” said Buday, 20, a student at Penn State New Kensington. “We were so shocked.”

“In that year, we were able to donate and distribute to five organizations,” Lavenets said. “It was huge. We were shown that, when you set out to do something, the giving is great.”

The following year, Lavenets joined Expressway Baptist Church in Buffalo Township and the collection grew into a churchwide ministry.

“We're a small church, but we can do large things to help people,” Lavenets said.

The Rev. Daniel McCrosky said he was the church's new pastor in 2012 when Lavenets arrived, and her goals meshed with the church's.

“Expressway Baptist Church exists to glorify God and make disciples of all nations,” McCrosky said. “One way to make disciples is to show people how much we love them. One of the ways we show we love them is to take care of their basic needs.”

McCrosky said he was impressed by the response last winter: “Last year was our first year, and our lobby was just filled with coats, hats, gloves, boxes of stuff.”

The donated items are distributed to about seven organizations, including Harrison-based Allegheny Valley Association of Churches and several shelters for abused women and homeless people in Butler County and Pittsburgh.

Lavenets said they assist individuals as the ministry becomes aware of their needs.

This winter, Lavenets said they've expanded their collection sites to include Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer, which she hopes will mean they reach more people able to donate.

Lavenets said they plan to make Treasures in Darkness a year-round ministry, not just a winter project. She hopes to add a food pantry and coordinate with other regional churches in hopes of expanding the outreach.

“There is so much need out there,” she said. “I think the good Lord is branching us out.”

Lavenets hopes more people will participate in the ministry so they can experience the same feeling of grace that she's realized.

“I'm very involved in other people's lives, which keeps me from worrying about my own,” Lavenets said. “We are like a light in a lighthouse now.”

“When we deliver these coats and blankets, we felt really good,” said Buday. “It was awesome to do something for someone else.”

“Everybody's a minister,” McCrosky said. “I'm the pastor, but everyone is a minister in their own spirit.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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