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Retirees embracing volunteerism as a second career 250 families a month benefit from pantry in North Tonawanda

Forty years as a police officer in North Tonawanda, the last 15 as chief, wasn't enough public service for Lloyd Graves.

The retired cop is now helping feed the hungry.

"Whatever needs to be done, that's my job around here," said Graves, who has been volunteering his services at the North Tonawanda Food Pantry for six years. His wife, Delmar, also helps during the holiday season.

The former police chief along with a retired Niagara-Wheatfield teacher and a retired Niagara Mohawk customer service representative are among the dozens of volunteers who found new lives after their long careers.

"I never thought I'd be a 63-year-old stock boy," Ron Wacker said as he packed food items into boxes.

Wacker, a widower who lives in North Tonawanda, worked for Niagara Mohawk for 35 years.

"I like doing this," he said. "It gets me up in the morning."

The food pantry at 100 Ridge Road is receiving 200 Christmas dinner baskets provided by The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, said Bonnie Giammusso, pantry coordinator.

The News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership joined to provide food and toys to more than 12,000 needy families in Erie and Niagara counties this holiday season.

In Erie County, at least 54,000 people in 18,000 households live at or below the poverty level.

"And they're just the ones we know about through our 304 agencies," said Anne Julian, agency services manager at the Food Bank of Western New York.

In Niagara County, there are more than 27,000 individuals living in poverty.

"I grew up poor in the Adirondacks, so I know all about hunger and need," said Paul Cassavaugh of Amherst, one of the volunteers at the Food Pantry of North Tonawanda.

The pantry, which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week during the holiday season and from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the rest of the year, feeds 250 families each month, Giammusso said.

Food is delivered in bags from the Food Bank of Western New York, and also picked up from supermarkets, stores and churches. A wide variety of food items -- including cans of soup and vegetables, jars of jam and fruit juice, and boxes of cereal -- are sorted and packed into boxes in a large storeroom. Two big freezers contain frozen turkeys that are distributed over the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period.

"Everyone is so generous," said Marilyn Allenbach, a widow and retired school custodian who lives in Amherst. "I love working here. This group is great."

Part of Cassavaugh's job is to head out in the pantry's van at 7:30 a.m. and collect about 10 cartons of donated food from places such as Tops markets, Dunkin' Donuts and other area food outlets.

"We sort it out here and see what we need," he said.

Leftover food is, in turn, donated to such community service organizations as the Salvation Army, the YWCA and the Tonawanda Senior Center.

The food pantry -- which receives funding from the United Way of the Tonawandas and Eastern Niagara United Way, and private donations from more than 50 churches, schools and service clubs in the Tonawandas -- is marking its 25th anniversary this year.

"It's sad that there are so many people in need," Giammusso said. "I'm glad we're here to help."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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