Need greater this year
by Larry Austin
The Grand Island Neighbors Foundation reports that the need to assist Islanders down on their luck this holiday has risen since last year, but donations to the group's canned food drive have risen even faster.
Volunteers met at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Whitehaven Road Tuesday morning to begin the process of distribution of food to needy families on the Island during the holidays.
The Grand Island Neighbors Foundation was formed to provide emergency short-term aid for the needy in town.
"There're 60 families we're helping this year. We had 45 last year, so we're up a third. It just shows you how bad the economy is," said Denny Dahl, board member with the Neighbors Foundation.
Members of the Neighbors Foundation, the Knights of Columbus, students from Grand Island High School, and others began sorting donated food gathered on pallets and placed in the middle of the K of C dining hall.
"Last year we had five or six pallets, and this year there is a lot more food," Dahl said.
Neighbors Foundation President Henry Kammerer said the increase in the canned donations is due to "the work the kids did" in the Grand Island Central School District. He noted the food drives conducted by the Student Council and others greatly increased overall contributions.
"Somehow Cheryl (Chamberlain) and her friends, they really psyched up the high school. That's why the collection is bigger," Kammerer said.
"It looks like we've got almost nine pallets of food now compared to five for last year, so we're almost double the food, but then again we've got a third more families we're helping, too," Dahl said.
Kammerer said the monetary fund drive, Share Your Happiness, has given the Neighbors Foundation the ability to buy additional food not donated.
"There are fewer smaller donations this year, but the larger donations are about the same," Dahl said. Zonta and the Rotary made large contributions this year, he added. "(Monetary) donations are probably doing just as well despite the economy," he added.
Dahl said the money has gone to buy 50 turkeys, 15 hams and six turkey breasts.
Bob Simpson, GIHS Student Council advisor, estimated the council's Share the Holiday Magic fundraiser, run concurrently with the Grand Island Lions Club and the town's parks and recreation department, raised 500 cans of food. Sidway School Principal Denise Dunbar reported that the school's children raised $327 and collected 692 items of food.
The Herculean task of sorting all the food brought to the K of C and distributing it to the families in one day fell on 29 students from the high school. Kammerer recalled that 30 years ago, when the Neighbors Foundation began the food drive, about 15 families received assistance at the holiday, and just half a dozen members of the Neighbors Foundation were "running around like chickens with their heads cut off" to gather the equivalent of two or three pallets of goods in the firehall at Huth Road and Stony Point Road.
"And we would sort that stuff ourselves. It was bad," he recalled, laughing.
High school students began volunteering in the late '80s or early '90s, making the distribution of greater amounts of food possible.
"It was like a handful of kids at first, and now it's 30 kids every year," Chamberlain said of the volunteers. "We could bring more, but 30 seems like a manageable number. Let me tell you, 60 want to come."
Chamberlain even had some recent graduates pitching in Tuesday.
Though youth often get a bad rap for being lazy or unmotivated, Kammerer said Islanders "should be proud of the high school students" and their mentors in school and at home for instilling the volunteer ethic in them.
Steph Senn and the Grand Island girls soccer team raised $115 from a 50-50 raffle at the team's banquet. She presented Kammerer with the donation and spent her time sorting some of the tons of food that was delivered to the K of C.
"It's way better than I thought," Senn said of the volunteer work for needy families. "I didn't know exactly what to expect coming in because this is my first year, but this is awesome. I'm having tons of fun. I'm excited that we're giving it to them."
(See Page 9 for other donations to the Neighbors Foundation.)
Orendael Miller, an officer with Grand Island High School Interact club, a community service adjunct of the Rotary Club, helped to sort food at the K of C. She recently volunteered with Interact to ring the bell for the Salvation Army at Tops as well
"For me, I just enjoy doing community service. I'm pretty sure that's how most people feel who are in the club," Miller said. "It just feels good to help people out, because we are so fortunate, and we would like to give what we can to the community."
This was Miller's third year taking part in the can sorting for the Neighbors Foundation.
"I'd never heard of it before, but I know that I love doing this every single year now, and I think it's a really great cause," Miller said. "I have a great time doing it."
Meghan Federico and Kelly Ruminski, members of the GIHS Teacher Appreciation Board were taking part in the sorting for the first time. They were picked for the job through the Student Council.
"I like how we're giving to people during Christmas. It's not about ourselves, it's about helping others and making sure they have things that they need for Christmas," Ruminski said.
"It definitely is work," Federico added. "It think it's rewarding work though at the same time, and it's something different from sitting in school all day. You actually get the experience of helping other people and not just focusing on yourself."
The students from GIHS were: Alex Ahne, Sara Carlson, Sarah Chamberlain, Sam Clarke, Zoe Dodd, Heavyn Dreher, Sydney Dudish, Jenell Duxbury, Keelan Erhard, Megan Federico, Ashley Gorman, Ruby Kauer, Frankie Koch, Robin Mangut, Bri McGuire, Orendael Miller, Alyssa Pino, Brittanee Ramallo, Kelly Ruminski, Nikki Scerra, Matt Seaman, Nick Soos, Alexa Territo, Katie Turner, AmyJo VeRost, James Rustowicz, Josh Ungaro, Steph Senn and Kati Gilbert. There were many other non-student volunteers.