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TRADITION AT ST. JOE'S REAFFIRMS LESSON ON THE BLESSINGS OF GIVING

'Tis not the weight of the gold or plate

Or the fondle of silk and fur

But the sprit in which the gift is rich

As the gifts of the wise men were.

And no one knows who gave the gold

Or who gave the gift of myrrh.

Those words from a poem came to mind last week as I walked across the parking lot at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the Town of Tonawanda. They came to mind because of some very fine people I had finished talking to a few minutes earlier.

The first step toward my trip to St. Joe's started with a letter from Charles H. Ende II, a teacher at the school. In it were the words, "As the director of St. Joe's Food Basket, I'm writing to you for help once again. I am very committed to the project because I worked with migrant and rural poor, and understand what poverty and hunger are all about. I'm convinced that teaching the Christian message at St. Joe's is not enough. We are trying to teach our students that putting the message into action is what counts. Our problem is lack of exposure. We work countless hours in organizing our drive, but we can't get the message to people by ourselves. Maybe helping the poor isn't the 'in thing' anymore, but the poor and hungry are still there."

The mention of "lack of exposure" hit home. About six years ago some volunteer workers from the St. Joe's Food Basket told me they never had been able to get any publicity for the cause from a television station. So I said, "I have an idea about how you might get TV coverage. Set fire to one of your trucks."

That was back at the time when the lead story on Channel 7 news often was about a fire. Some Fort Erie, Ont., people once said, "We watch your television news shows all the time, and wonder if there is anything in Buffalo that has not burned down."

Another sentence in Chuck Ende's letter that intrigued me was the one that said he had worked with migrant and rural poor. Some of that work was done at Marian House in Medina, where I had met migrant workers and seen their stupefying poverty. And experts have told me that the rural poor have it worse than the urban poor, who have access to more avenues of relief.

The idea for a food basket was in Chuck Ende's head when he joined the faculty at St. Joe's in 1970. In the first Christmas season, a dozen volunteers collected enough foodstuffs to fill only the trunk of his car for the trip to Marian House. Seventeen years later, 100 volunteers from the school collected enough donations to fill 14 trucks.

Isn't the fact that the organizers are using only one truck this year cause for alarm?

"No, it isn't," Chuck Ende said. "In earlier years we collected clothing and furniture along with the food. Now we deliver only food to the Warming House."

Where and what is Warming House?

"It is a service to the needy administered by the Campus Ministry on the St. Bonaventure University campus. After Marian House closed a few years ago, the Bonaventure people approached us and asked if we would help them. We agreed, and that is what we do now. Last year we delivered 14,000 items of food. This year we are hoping the figure will be closer to 15,000."

Doesn't the drive to Allegany get a little hairy during the winter?

"Yes, it does. In '78 and '80, we had to stay overnight at St. Bonaventure. Last year Route 16 closed behind us because of a blizzard. We had to take back roads to get back to Buffalo."

The two young men with Ende were Norm Utech, 17, a senior, and Chris Koteras, 17, a junior. When not at school, Norm teaches religion to public school students and works part time at a restaurant. Chris spends a lot of time playing football for the school's team and working at a restaurant.

Accordingly, they couldn't be criticized if they took time for rest and recreation. But the feeling here is that they would resist anyone who tried to take them away from their labor of love -- especially since the occasions when they have seen the faces of some of the poor people they have helped.

How did the condition of those people affect them?

"When I saw it, I realized that I had never realized how bad things can be for those unfortunate people," Norm Utech said. "But I am glad that I had the experience. It just made the work on the project more meaningful."

"That experience gave me a new appreciation of Christmas," Chris Koteras said. "So I am also glad I went through it."

Those young men and the other volunteers won't get the publicity they deserve as long as people find the Mr. Hydes more interesting than the Dr. Jekylls. But their concern is about the success of their mission, not publicity. Those who want to help them should contact St. Joe's at 874-4024 as soon as possible. The drive, you see, ends tomorrow.

Friday, a man phoned and said: "Your recent mention about Pete Metzelaars helping the Cystic Fibrosis people prompted this call. Pete and his wife, Barbara, are hosting a Christmas party at Ilio diPaolo's restaurant Sunday for 150 youngsters who have been helped by the CF people. The Metzelaars pick up the entire tab."

A television show once said there were a million stories in the naked city. In the City of Good Neighbors, there sure are many Dr. Jekyll stories.

Today's prediction. I am a day late for the Giants game, but I will say the Bills will beat Miami 24 to 21. And I will let it be known where and when I will eat the predictions column I said I would consume if the Bills won more than 10 games in the regular season.

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