Recent fundraiser nets $21,000 to help cancer patients with everyday needs
Survivors Group website will have link for people in need
By Joshua Maloni
Sgt. Peppers Hot Sauces, Etc., owner Neil Garfinkel has fought cancer - and beat it. But that might not have happened without the support of his family and friends, or the ability to do things most people take for granted.
"Insurance covers a lot of things, and friends help with a lot of things. (But) some people don't have a lot of friends. Some people don't have insurance," he said.
So, in an effort to help those battling cancer achieve basic needs, Garfinkel joined the Lower Niagara Community Survivors Group. The nonprofit organization was created to help cancer patients with day-to-day projects and activities. Its motto is "No one survives alone."
The Community Survivors Group recently raised a whopping $21,000 at a one-day benefit event held at The Lewiston Stone House.
"This is for those things that are not covered in the medical field. Just things that nobody thinks of, that you can't live without," Garfinkel said. "If your driveway's not plowed and you have a radiation appointment - which you have to usually go five days a week - how are you going to get there? You can't get out of your driveway. Or if you can't afford the gas to get there, or an Uber. It's something that nobody thinks about when you think about cancer."
Lewiston Stone House owner Emery Simon also is a survivor.
"Our family is fortunate that, when a problem takes place, we're able to overcome the obstacles that are out there. We're a large family, so it helps," he said.
Though Simon could afford to pay for treatment, he recognized others aren't as fortunate.
"Think about somebody who's a single parent going through this, or somebody that was a dual-income family and now, all of a sudden, not only do they lose the person's income that's going through cancer, but the other spouse has now got to give up half their time at work, because they have to take their spouse to the hospital for the chemo treatments; they've got to take them for testing; they've got to go see the doctor. There's so much ancillary driving around," he said. "We could maybe get Uber drivers that would volunteer: 'OK, I'm going to take this person to all their trips, and I'm going to drop them off and I'm going to pick them up from their chemo trip; make sure that they're OK.' Maybe it's just taking them to the doctor and that."
Simon worked for more than nine months with a team of local leaders to form the Lower Niagara Community Survivors Group. He established it as a nonprofit organization and, with the help of the team, worked diligently to convince the public of its fund-worthiness. The group staged the inaugural "Rockout Cancer" event on Sept. 16.
"The goal is, pretty much, to create an organization - and we're in the infancy of it - that would allow us to help people with ancillary problems that they have when they're going through cancer," Simon said. "I'd like to get to a point where we have landscapers involved (for example), and, instead of landscapers donating us money, they donate 'I'll mow one lawn a year, and I'll take care of that lawn.' Somebody is going through cancer right now - maybe it's the husband, maybe it's the wife - maybe the husband just doesn't have time now to mow the lawn. It's just not a high priority.
"Taking one thing off of their plate might give them just a little bit of comfort in this. Maybe their car needs to be fixed? You know, we could talk to the auto repair shops around, see if they would help somebody or, if nothing else, donate maybe the labor and not the material."
"Rockout Cancer" featured live musical performances from Jamie Holka, Vinyl Addiction, Busted in Eden and Mister Thank You; basket raffles; and plenty of food, courtesy of The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q, Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen, Casa Antica and the Stone House.
"With our fundraising event that took place, all our help was 100 percent donated," Simon said. "Everybody that was here working that day worked on their time. No one was paid to be here. Everybody was here for the right reason. The bartenders that were here, they donated their tips. The celebrity bartenders donated their tips and their time. We have a chef; he was working through the entire event. But he came early in the morning and he helped set up. And then, after the event was over, he came back and helped take down.
"Nobody got paid. We wanted to make it an event where 100 percent of the proceeds went to the cause."
Simon continued, "I can't thank the people that worked on the food enough. Brickyard - Ken Bryan - who supplied the lion's share of the food and took care of the food throughout the day. You had Gallo supply food. You had Casa Antica supply food. You had Tops Supermarket supply the paper products. Everybody did a little bit, which means a lot - which made it a successful event."
"The group that put this all together put their heart and soul into it, and that's what it takes," Bryan said. "I believe everyone truly is looking for the best interest of the outcome of this. I think we achieved it. And I think there's a lot of room to grow for us, because I think we see what we've done -- and I think we'll all be back doing it twice as hard next year."
"It's close to a lot of our hearts. ... I had cancer. I may still have it. A lot of these people have had it," Garfinkel said.
"I think everybody in our group was touched. I just lost my mom to cancer. So, for me it was important," Bryan said. "And I think for everybody in the group it really meant something. And they understand that, those that aren't fortunate enough and need help, how important it really is."
Simon explained, "What we want to do, eventually, once we grow it to that point - like I say, we're in the infancy - we want to be able to help people that need help."
"If everybody in the community does a little bit, we can help so many people - and that's our goal," he said.
The Community Survivors Group website (http://communitysurvivors.org/
) will soon have active links where those fighting cancer can apply for services. The site also will provide information on volunteering and donating.
Members of the Lower Niagara Community Survivors Group met for a photo this week, and to present Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo with a plaque of appreciation. The hospital sponsored "Rockout Cancer."
"It was a labor of love," Ruffolo said. "We're glad we did it."
Community Survivors Group President Emery Simon said, "Memorial donated money and their staff here to help educate people that had questions on 'What about this? What about that? Should I go to this test, or should I go get that test? Where can I go for this? I'm experiencing this,' or 'I have a loved one that's experiencing that.'
"Having that staff on hand, here, to talk to people, was huge. I mean, I can't tell you how many people came up and said, 'Thank you for having them here,' because you have certain inhibitions about going to the doctor or going to the hospital. And having them in such a casual atmosphere, it allowed people to open up and actually talk to people and ask them sincere questions about sincere, confidential problems."
Pictured, from left, are Ken Bryan of The Brickyard family of restaurants, Ruffolo, and Simon, who owns the Lewiston Stone House.