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Summer festival, walk put food on food poverty

A summer festival in 2008 at an Amherst synagogue forged the largest annual fundraiser for the Food Bank of Western New York. Temple Beth Am – which since has merged with Temple Sinai into Congregation Shir Shalom – was planning the festival when board member Todd Sugarman suggested creating a walk to go with it. Fellow temple board member Gary Bluestein also was on the Food Bank board. The decision was made to give the walk proceeds to the Food Bank.

“The temple had always been a big supporter of the Food Bank,” said Bruce Corris, a then-television news producer tapped to run the event. “We do a high holiday food drive. We do a Thanksgiving basket drive.”

The walk, which raised about $80,000 last year, moved from the Congregation grounds four years ago to Island Park in Williamsville, where the ninth installment – including a summer fest – will take place next Saturday. Registration starts at 10 a.m.; the walk begins at 11 and the festival runs till 2 p.m. For more info, visit Corris, 59, of East Amherst, remains a key organizer.

Q. How do the walk and the Food Bank help families in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties?

Look at all the kids who get free and reduced lunch. In the summertime, they’re not in school. The need goes up in the summer and the donations tend to go down. We want families to take part because you can live in any neighborhood and have need for the Food Bank. The kid who sits next to you in class might be getting help from the Food Bank and you might not even know it.

Q. How big is the challenge in the region?

The food bank helps as many as 129,000 people every month, and as many as 45,000 of them are children. And let’s not forget seniors. We have a high poverty rate here. In the four-county area the food bank serves, approximately 22 percent of the children don’t necessarily get all the food they need. Approximately 180,000 people don’t have access at all times to enough food. The food bank provides food and services to over 300 member agencies and the numbers are staggering. In 2015, the food bank distributed enough food for more than 12 million meals.

Q. What will families, and especially kids, learn about during the walk?

That anyone out there – anyone in Western New York – is the same. Everyone needs some help at one time or another. If you can help someone else, you should.

– Scott Scanlon

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