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FRIENDS GATHERING TO AID AILING FORMER HAMBURG MAN

In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, friends of a former Hamburg couple have put their own errands on hold to organize a benefit to help pay medical costs for the family, now living in Florida.

Well-known real estate agent Joseph Almeida was diagnosed with cancer Nov. 9. Because the cancer had spread to many of his organs, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy were not considered options.

As Almeida and his wife, Debi, dealt with the reality that he would die soon, they also have faced financial obstacles that caused them to be evicted from their Sanibel Island home. The Sanibel Island community has rallied around the couple and their four children, with one family offering their home rent-free until Feb. 1 and another coming through with the use of a home until the end of the school year.

This week the Western New York community will show its support with a benefit from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Callahan's in Brierwood Square, Hamburg.

Scott Tanner said he and a couple of friends were talking about the family's plight and what they could do for them several weeks ago. The idea of a fund-raiser was thrown around, and the first meeting to plan it was conducted Dec. 7.

"They've all touched us in different aspects of our lives," said Hamburg Supervisor Patrick H. Hoak, who is part of the committee organizing the fund-raiser. "They're the type of people who would be there for others."

Although they've been gone for more than a year, Joseph and Debi Almeida have kept in touch with their many friends in Western New York. Most recently, Mrs. Almeida has been sending e-mail to friends to update them of her husband's condition, which changes day to day.

"We do a lot of e-mail back and forth," said Joanne Tanner.

Almeida, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Army, spent most of his life in Western New York.

"He was in real estate up here 25 years at least," said Marty Doherty, a longtime friend.

Almeida had offices in Hamburg, Springville and Ellicottville before closing them and moving to Florida less than two years ago. The couple's children, Joey, 7, Cassie, 8, Mike, 14, and Mario, 16, attended Frontier Central School.

Both Almeidas sold real estate in Florida, but since his illness,Almeida has not worked and his wife has stopped working to care for him.

"Our goal is to provide some food and shelter," Hoak said.

Friends said response in the past two weeks has been amazing, with support coming from area realtors, retailers and others, with Callahan's and Blasdell Pizzeria providing major contributions.

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