By Mike and Debbie Billoni
Tom Calderone said it is important for his three sons to learn the importance of helping others and giving their time to volunteer for worthy causes.
On Saturday, July 25, Tom and his boys attended the Food Bank of Western New York's eighth annual Walk Off Hunger and Summerfest at Island Park in Williamsville.
Last November, during the "Snow-vember" storm, Tom travelled to Buffalo the Sunday before Thanksgiving to volunteer at the Food Bank. On Thanksgiving morning, he helped serve dinner with Sr. Johnace at the Response to Love Center on Buffalo's East Side.
"That experience really affected me," Tom said after walking the two-mile route with his children. "After helping deliver food with the Food Bank staff, collecting turkeys with DJ Jickster (of 97 Rock during Rock Out Hunger) and then serving dinner with Sr. Johnace, I said this will be an annual Thanksgiving ritual with me and my boys, because it is very important that children learn the importance of helping others."
A native of Long Island, who graduated in 1986 from Buffalo State College with a degree in communications, Tom owns an apartment in Buffalo and owns season tickets for the Bills. After working at WGR upon graduating from Buff State, Calderone held jobs in radio in New York City and Washington before beginning a nearly 20-year career at MTV and VH-1. On July 21, he decided to step down from his position as president of VH-1. Three days later, he drove to Buffalo to celebrate his son Charles' birthday. For his birthday, Charles wanted to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Tom's boys - James, 13, Charles, 11, and David, 9, love their trips to Buffalo and they especially enjoy attending Bills' games.
This trip was different, because they knew the walk and donations they made were going to help families less fortunate than they are.
"We always teach our boys the power of giving back and helping others, but this experience was especially special, because they were actually able to see the results of this walk helping others," Tom said during the walk as he stopped to explain one the Food Bank's information signs posted along the walk to his boys.
Pictured, from left: David, Charles, Tom and James Calderone at Walk Off Hunger.
"I feel good, because I am helping people who are hungry, and I know our donation is making a difference," Charles said. "Everyone should be able to have food on their table. No one should have to go hungry."
James was particularly interested in the statistics about the nearly 40,000 children the Food Bank assists each month through its 236 member agencies in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties. "It just isn't fair that there are so many children who go to bed hungry at night," he said. "It is great that so many people are here helping the Food Bank so families have enough food to eat."
The record-setting Walk Off Hunger event, co-hosted by Calvary Episcopal Church and Congregation Shir Shalom, was led by 95-years-young Jenny Pohl of Williamsville - a member of the temple. She has walked in each of the eight events and, this year, she raised nearly $1,100 by asking friends and neighbors for donations.
"I do it every year, because I just can't imagine so many children in our area who go to bed hungry each night. That is not right, and I hope my little donation can go a long way in helping these children,' Pohl said.
Within the Food Bank of Western New York's four-county service area, 186,000 people (13.8 percent of the population) do not have access at all times to enough food. Clients often choose between paying for medicine and utility bills and purchasing food. Their dilemma: Do they heat or eat?
Through its member agencies of food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and group homes, the Food Bank serves 116,821 individuals, including 43,875 children, each month. The number of individuals reflects an increase of 18 percent over 2013. The number of senior citizens utilizing the Food Bank's member agencies has increased 54 percent, to 13,194.
For more information about the Food Bank of WNY, visit www.foodbankwny.org.
Pictured, from left: Assemblyman Ray Walter, President and CEO of the Food Bank of WNY Marylou Borowiak and Congressman Brian Higgins at the start of Walk Off Hunger.
Pictured, from left: Phil Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute; Debbie Billoni; Higgins; Mike Billoni; and Drew Cerza, the "Wing King" at the Food Bank's Walk Off Hunger.
Michael J. Billoni is an award-winning sports writer and reporter. His work has appeared in the Tonawanda News, Buffalo Courier-Express and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. He is also the former vice president/general manager of the Buffalo Bisons and Rich Baseball Operations. Mike is a freelance writer for Niagara Frontier Publications. He can be reached at [email protected]. Deborah Billoni is the director of finance and operations at the International Institute of Buffalo. She can be reached at [email protected].