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Mother’s Day at Kelkenberg farm becomes annual rite of spring

When Emily Eberth visits Kelkenberg Farm in Clarence, the eight-year-old from Alden loves to pet all the animals.

There’s no shortage at the 115-acre Wolcott Road educational farm – from chickens, ducks and turkeys to horses, cows, sheep and pigs.

“My favorite part is to hold the bunnies,” she said, prompting a loud protesting bleat from one of the two little goats she was petting at that moment.

Kelkenberg is already known in the region for offering an agricultural learning experience to families and youth. The farm has no crops, other than 15 acres of you-pick pumpkins in the fall, so the focus is on educating about animals.

That draws Western New Yorkers like the Eberths every year. “We love to see all the baby animals,” said Emily’s mother, Jenny. “We don’t miss it.”

But on Sunday, Emily, her 34-year-old mother and her six-year-old sister got to do more than just pet the animals, shuck corn and take a pony ride on an unusually warm Mother’s Day.

They and many other families were also supporting the Food Bank of Western New York, and particularly its Emergency Baby Needs Program. That initiative – which works through 38 local agencies – supplies formula, diapers, wipes, baby cereal, baby food and other related items to needy families with infants under age 1.

“We do see a lot of moms in need, a lot of families where the husband goes out of work, and diapers and formulas are a huge expense and can eat up savings quickly,” said Stephanie Lawson, Food Bank agency grants and youth programs supervisor. “People are starting to recognize that it’s something that the Food Bank offers.”

The baby program is just one component of the larger regional Food Bank that serves more than 41,000 families and 165,000 people in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, providing them with food and groceries donated by individuals and corporations. About 8 percent of the individuals served are under age 5, Lawson said.

The overall organization has received significant support from Western New York donors – even during the recession – but the population that it served last year increased 15 percent from 2013, Lawson said.

“We’re in a very giving community,” she said. “Having said that, our needs continue to increase, so while we’re getting the support from people in the community, there are more people in need than ever before.”

That’s where partners such as Kelkenberg come in. Indeed, the farm had its own share of babies Sunday. Six baby ducklings hatched from their eggs just hours before the event, chirping all the while. There were also young goats, chicks and bunnies, among others.

One expectant mother – a sheep named Mary – didn’t quite have her little lamb yet. But that didn’t stop a herd of youngsters and parents from flocking to see them all.

“I love that proceeds are for the Food Bank today,” said Alyssa Quintilone, 37, a Clarence native who now lives in Williamsville with her husband, Mike, and two children, 4-year-old Landon and one-year-old Julianna.

The family-owned working farm relied on more than three dozen teenage and parent volunteers – including at least 10 mothers – to staff its fourth-annual Mother’s Day Down on the Farm program. The volunteers showed off the farm’s newest residents, led pony rides, helped children pet and hold the furry little animals, and taught guests about life on the farm.

“I’m so touched because they love the farm and love that it’s Food Bank,” said farm owner Charlene Spoth. “I’m floored that all these moms are here.”

The teenager volunteers largely came from the Clarence and Akron high schools, and from the Niagara County 4-H program. “I have so many kids that come here and volunteer,” said Spoth, who grew up on the farm that her parents purchased in 1966, and took over ownership with her husband in 2010. “It’s such a warm experience for everyone. I’m pretty proud of all the mothers that come and volunteer on Mother’s Day.”

And except for paying two staff members, all proceeds from admission fees went to the Food Bank, for the third year. Last year, 550 to 600 visitors attended, enabling Kelkenberg to raise $3,200 for the Food Bank.

Spoth expected a banner turnout this year, exceeding 600.