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Charitable projects from WNY seeking Pepsi grants

A project conceived in Buffalo to design a cooling vest for those afflicted by multiple sclerosis stands a chance of winning a $250,000 grant from Pepsi.

But that depends on how many votes it receives this month in Pepsi Refresh, an online fundraising contest that allows the public to decide among hundreds of proposals the company selects for the competition each month.

The Coolture vest is one of at least four projects with area ties attempting to win one of two $250,000 grants, the top prize.

Pepsi's contest, which began last February, each month awards up to $1.3 million in grants for $250,000, $50,000, $25,000 and $5,000. The company says it is looking for ideas from individuals, nonprofits and pro-social businesses that can make a positive impact in the community.

Other area applicants selected by Pepsi to compete for the largest grant, include:

* The National Multiple Sclerosis Society Upstate New York Chapter, which hopes to use the funds to help 150 people with the disease to modify their homes or vehicles, as well as to support research in Buffalo and elsewhere.

* Tonya Scott, a single mother about to graduate with an associate's degree in criminal justice, is proposing to build a community center in Buffalo to give at-risk youth a safe place to go for after-school educational and creative programs.

* A Brocton man who proposes to "Bake the World a Better Place" by buying and renovating a building to provide low-income housing to people who need only to pay for their utilities each month if they agree to donate time to help the organization bake goods, which are then donated to soup kitchens and shelters.

"We are taking individuals that would otherwise be living in state or governmental housing units, giving them a safe and secure place to rest their heads, and also doing our small part in eliminating hunger within our communities," Shane Sanders said.

Sanders and the others are competing amid allegations that the voting for Pepsi Refresh is being manipulated.

A few nonprofit groups say that recent winners have used an Internet service to improve their ranking in the voting, according to a report in the New York Times.

The vest proposal is the brainchild of Van DiBernardo, a DKNY fashion designer whose career was halted because of complications from multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, slowly disrupts nerve impulses, causing weakness, loss of coordination, vision and speech problems and, in severe cases, paralysis.

It is known to lower a person's heat threshold. The vest is made of performance materials that facilitate cooling.

"Once I become overheated, my vision blurs, I'm unable to walk, and my cognitive thought process is shattered," DiBernardo, who now runs a support group at DeGraff Memorial Hospital, said in a statement.

To search the projects or to vote, visit www.refresheverything.com.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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