Story and photos by Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Islanders donated 12 palettes of food to the Grand Island Neighbors Foundation this holiday season for their neighbors in distress.
According to Henry Kammerer, president of the Neighbors Foundation, this was the most food the organization had ever received in its annual food drive. This year, 59 families on the Island in temporary need of assistance will receive donations, making their holiday a little brighter.
Denny Dahl, vice president of the Neighbors Foundation, attributed the increase in donations to people "knowing that other people need help more."
Much of the food donated came from a food drive conducted at Grand Island schools.
"Between the parents and kids, they realize there's a lot of people who need help on the Island. Everybody's not rich like you think," Dahl said.
Grand Island High School Interact club member Emily Fred sorts canned food for the Grand Island Neighbors Foundation Thursday at the Mary Star of the Sea Council Knights of Columbus on Whitehaven Road. Volunteers sorted 12 palettes of food donated by Islanders for Islanders.
Thursday morning, 26 students from Grand Island High School and Veronica Connor Middle School and four advisers visited the Mary Star of the Sea Council Knights of Columbus Hall on Whitehaven Road to unpack the donations and divide them for delivery to the 59 families. The Mary Star of the Sea Council annually provides the hall to serve as headquarters for the donation collection and sorting.
Advisers of Interact clubs at GIHS and VCMS and the schools DECA business club included Laura Briganti, Carley Antonelli and Crystal Barnes and Cheryl Chamberlain. Chamberlain, adviser to DECA, called volunteering for the work a "longstanding, 25-year-plus tradition for DECA."
"Student Council were responsible for collecting the majority of the food, door to door," she said.
DECA co-Vice President Abby Czerwonka and Josh Schaefer, both juniors, were making return visits to the annual work at the Knights of Columbus hall.
"It's for a good cause. It helps people right in our community, so you can definitely relate to it and you can know you're helping people, maybe next door, maybe around the corner," said Schaefer, who was making his third trip to the Knights hall to work.
The students broke down the boxes of food, sorted it by type, and the filled shopping bags and carts with groceries based on the family composition of the recipients.
"This is my favorite field trip," Czerwonka said. "Sorting the canned goods is a little long, but my favorite part is getting who's 'my family' and picking out what they're going to eat."
Jake Masucci, co-president of Interact with Owen Morrish at the high school, was making his first trip to the Knights of Columbus for the work. He had heard about the endeavor in past years from his classmates, who told him the work was fun and gratifying.
"And now coming here, it's definitely all of that and more," Masucci said as he worked.
"This is our first time coming as Interact, and it's been a lot of fun," Masucci said, though acknowledging it is hard work. "Yeah, but it's really rewarding and it's fun to do. It's with your friends to do something productive and positive in the community, that helps other people besides ourselves."
GIHS senior Sarah Swagler, regional representative for Grand Island DECA, said the sorting was similar to her after-school job.
"It kind of reminds me of working at Wegmans," Swagler said, laughing. "But it feels really good knowing that this food is going to people in need, especially on Grand Island, because we kind of assume everyone's fine on Grand Island. We feel like it's our own little world and we really forget that other people are suffering."
People in need were receiving the donations privately on Thursday afternoon. Wednesday's snowstorm warning and possibility of a snow day Thursday caused a bit of anxiety for Neighbors Foundation members who wondered, if there was no school Thursday, and no students to do the heavy lifting and sorting that morning, how would the distribution of donated food get done.
"That's a good question," Dahl said. "I woke up at 5:30 this morning to look at the TV, I really did, hoping that it wasn't closed. I don't know what we would have done, because we used to do this alone years and years ago, but we never had this much food.
"Without the kids' help, we could never do this."
Chamberlain sent out a text Wednesday afternoon to officers in the clubs asking that, in the event of a snow day, would anybody be willing to still go to the Knights of Columbus to support the effort.
"And every single one of them said yes. If the driving was bad, we were just going to coordinate rides. They were totally willing," Chamberlain said.
"If we did have a snow day, I think that we would still find time to come and do it. It's a really awesome thing that all of us are doing here," Masucci said.
"Most of us said 'absolutely,'" Swagler said of the response to the text. "I love doing it, but it's something that absolutely needs to be done, especially with all the food that we collected. There's no purpose if it's just sitting here."
"I told her I'd be here," Swagler said. "9 a.m. sharp."
Erin Cool of Grand Island School DECA, and Jake Masucci and Robert Jankowiak of GIHS Interact were among the 26 students form the Grand Island Central School District who volunteered to distribute food donated to the Grand Island Neighbors Foundation for Island families temporarily in need this holiday season.