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Niagara Q&A / Angelo Sarkees Environmental concerns paved the way to help feed poor

NIAGARA FALLS – Angelo Sarkees doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, because it swells his heart with joy.

The Lewiston resident collects empty bottles and cans, as well as scrap metal, for his “Deposits for Food” charity. He takes the deposit return money from the cans and bottles, as well as the cash he earns from turning in scrap metal, and donates it all to Heart, Love and Soul, as well as Community Missions of Niagara Frontier – both Niagara Falls-based organizations that care for those less fortunate.

Sporting a neon T-shirt proclaiming his intentions, he patrols area events with a big plastic bag at the ready to snatch up empty bottles and cans patrons have tossed aside. He also stations tall, white cardboard boxes at festivals and concerts, urging people to donate their empties. While he’s comfortable scouring the grounds, he’s also been known to dig through garbage cans for his cause, which is simply feeding the poor.

Since he first started the project in August 2013, he figures he has collected about 50,000 bottles and cans and 10 to 15 tons of scrap metal to raise $6,000, which he has split evenly between the two organizations.

Sister Beth Brosmer, OSF, executive director of Heart and Soul, as it is commonly known, said, “Angelo is such a good man. He uses his energy to help others and I marvel at his determination to collect these deposits to help us and help Community Missions. He has a remarkable heart for giving.”

Sarkees’ donations make a real difference at Heart and Soul. Brosmer said that in 2013 alone, her organization provided 46,055 meals in its dining room at 939 Ontario Ave., and provided 86,988 meals through its pantry.

Community Missions, likewise, provided 75,980 meals in 2013.

Sarkees recently took a few minutes to discuss his charitable project.

How did this all begin?

I retired from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation five years ago, so I’m a conservationist and I hate to see things go to waste. I’d see all of these empty bottles and cans and I thought 10 years ago, students should collect these and use the deposit money for their activities. Then I thought, why not give the money to soup kitchens?

So, in August of 2013, I started collecting the cans and bottles at the Jazz Festival in Lewiston and I did the Harvest Festival there that year, too. This year, I collected at Artpark – I put up a box near one of the entrance gates – and the Lewiston Art Festival, and the Porter Cup as well as the Jazz Festival and Harvest Festival. I also went to the Blues Festival in Niagara Falls.

I call it “socially aware conservatism.” I bring a green perspective to these things. It’s green and it’s for a cause.

Do you work alone?

Yes. I have two corporate sponsors – Modern Corp. and Sevenson Environmental Services – but I collect everything by myself.

Modern provided me with the boxes, the bags and the stickers and Sevenson and Modern split the cost of the T-shirts I sell. I sell the T-shirts for $10.

But I would love to have more corporate sponsors.

Where else do you collect bottles and cans?

I find what I can everywhere – and if I have to go through the garbage, I do. If I go somewhere and I see a lot of bottles and cans, I just pick them up.

I also have four businesses in Lewiston who give me their bottles and cans and some scrap – Favorite’s Pizza, the Brickyard, Tin Pan Alley, and the Spicey Pickle and (the bar/restaurant called) Somewhere in Youngstown.

And family and friends call me to come and pick up their empties. They can email me at sarkeesa@yahoo.com.

I also have a permanent box at Hennepin Park in Lewiston at Fourth and Center streets year-round.

Do you have a truck?

No, I just have my station wagon. I know that if I fill it with bottles and cans, I have about $100 worth. I clean it out once a week.

Where do you turn in so many bottles and cans at once?

I go to Porter Empty Return Center in Ransomville and they give me five cents for every bottle and can, plus an extra 10 percent. I took them almost 40,000 cans and bottles this summer.

How did you pick these two charities?

I’ve always been a big supporter of Community Missions. I grew up with Joe Sbarbati (associate director of Community Missions), and I just gave Sister Beth a call at Heart and Soul and told her what I wanted to do.

How much time do you devote to this?

About 20 hours a week. I had a friend who was always trying to help the poor, and I guess I picked it up from him. I just think one of the most important things you can do is to help the poor. I’m just doing what I can.

How would you like to expand this project?

I’d love to collect $10,000 a year. I’d love to get more corporate sponsorships and maybe have some matching sponsorships. I just wish I had started this 10 years ago.

I’d also like to challenge people to consider making a holiday donation to Heart and Soul and Community Missions.

The staffs at these two places are the real heroes and the inspiration for my efforts.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.