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PAL hands out 260 helmets at elementary school

Though some may feel children can be a bit hard-headed, members of the Buffalo Police Athletic League beg to disagree.

A Buffalo PAL contingent walked into 79th Street Elementary School on Tuesday and handed out more than 260 bicycle safety helmets to pupils in grades three through six -- free of charge.

"We got a Governor's Traffic Safety Grant [along with donations from private sponsors] to help make sure kids stay safe whether they're using bikes, skateboards or roller blades," said Buffalo PAL Program Director Modie V. Cox, a former 1990s Niagara Falls High School basketball star.

Buffalo PAL Executive Director Susan M. Gonzalez said private donors to the program are BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, State Farm Insurance and Upstate New York Transplant Services. She said Buffalo PAL has spent about $65,000 this year on the bicycle safety program.

The athletic league has given out more than 5,700 bicycle helmets to children in Western New York, mostly in Buffalo, during the past several months.

Buffalo PAL decided to include Niagara Falls children in their plans because, Cox said, he's from the Falls and wanted to do something for youngsters in the city.

"And Buffalo PAL likes to be a good neighbor," he said.

Cox said he decided to focus on 79th Street School because a friend of his, Mike Williamson of the Williamson Funeral Home, "told me 79th Street School was a great little school."

Next spring, Buffalo PAL plans to hand out free helmets to the school's prekindergarten through second-grade pupils.

Cox said the safety program is important because 260,000 children across the country end up in hospital emergency rooms every year with injuries they suffer from bicycle accidents.

The 79th Street program included a safety helmet demonstration using cantaloupes, Principal Harriet W. Fogan said.

"The kids were overwhelmed when they saw the effect on a cantaloupe that was dropped [to the floor]," Fogan said. "It exploded. When they put another cantaloupe inside a bike helmet and dropped it, it was not damaged at all. It was an effective demonstration. They could see the difference and got the message.

"I'm glad our school was chosen because we have a lot of children who do ride around with no helmets," said Fogan, who remembers Cox when he was a fourth-grader at Harry F. Abate Elementary School. "You'd be surprised how many kids in the auditorium today said they did not have a helmet. And I know many of our kids whose parents can't afford to buy all of their kids helmets, so it was a good program for us."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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