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Walk Off Hunger, set next weekend, touts avid supporters

Wintertime – especially the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays – tends to be a time when Western New Yorkers are most apt to turn their attention to helping support the Food Bank of Western New York. Those at Congregation Shir Shalom and Calvary Episcopal Church in  Amherst understand, however, that summertime can be a heavier burden for families that include children who get free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches during the school year.

It's why Shir Shalom's precursor, Temple Beth Am, a decade ago came up with the idea for a Walk Off Hunger event to go with its summer festival. Calvary joined as a co-host five years ago.

"The first year, the Food Bank hoped $1,500 could be raised. We raised $25,000 and it's gone up from there," said Bruce Corris, 60, of East Amherst, one of the initial organizers who continues to play a key role. This year's walk runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 29 at Island Park in Williamsville. Registration starts at 10 a.m.; the walk begins at 11 and the festival runs till 2 p.m. For more information or to register in advance, visit

Q. How much was raised last year?

It was our best ever, $82,000, enough for 492,000 meals. One dollar will pay for six meals.

Q. What will the walk be like this year? Any special touches to mark the 10th ?

We've found the activities that we have had – the climbing wall, the kid's games, the entertainment, the food – have been so popular we've decided not to rock the boat. We'll have some special salutes to some people as we begin the event. Our founder, Gary Bluestein, has been a huge reason this event has been so successful every year. It wouldn't be here if it weren't for him. We have a neat little change this year for our National Anthem. A 9-year-old girl, Hannah Block, is going to lead us with the singing. Her mother, Jackie, has been on the committee a number of years. Jackie and her husband, Dave, have been big supporters.

Q. What is the cost to register and what does it include?

Jennie Pohl, left, 97, and Bruce Corris have been mainstays at the Walk Off Hunger during the last decade.

It's $25 for the walk and summer fair. That gets you a T-shirt, admission to all of the Summer Fest stuff: the music, the food, the bounce houses, everything else. Separate from that, we'll also have raffles. We have some big-ticket items, including a $2,000 AAA travel gift card, as well our usual basket raffles. We always end up with some wonderful stuff for that.

People can decide that morning they're going to do the walk. We've got plenty of room for them. The event is free for kids under 16. We want parents to bring their kids. We want families to enjoy this.

We think it's more important to have a one fee pays for everything than charge for this hamburger or that ride on the bounce house or these games or this rock-climbing wall. Let it be included. If people appreciate that, maybe they'll buy a few more tickets to the basket raffle or make a pledge to someone. Maybe they'll make an extra donation. Every dollar this event gets is staying right here in Western New York.

A lot of people think the Food Bank is an urban thing. It's not. Hunger doesn't stop at the city line. It's in every ZIP code in Western New York, including the wealthiest. … A fair number of people they help are right in the neighborhood where the (2-mile) walk takes place. … Someone's next-door neighbor might be being helped and they wouldn't even know it.

Q. Will Jennie Pohl, who is 97, walk again this year?

She will. She is our all-time top fundraiser.

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

They work with many, many agencies. Look at the Food Bank as a giant distribution center. They have this huge warehouse and every day, food leaves the Food Bank and goes to food pantries, other food banks, and churches and synagogues and community centers. It goes to schools for school lunch programs. It goes directly to people. They have 341 member agencies in the four counties. They're in every single ZIP code in those four counties. They're helping kids, senior citizens, young families and those middle aged.

Q. Can you give readers a sense of the nature of hunger in this region?

They're helping up to 135,000 people any given month in those four counties. That's a pretty substantial percentage.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon 

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