By Michele DeLuca firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Stephanie Lawson stood in front of Kalfas Elementary School Wednesday and remembered the days when she went to school there.
Lawson, now 25, recalled the Halloween costume her mom made for her one year, putting coat hangers into her braids so they would stick out like Pippi Longstocking’s and how that delighted her teachers and fellow students.
She also remembers the delicious aromas wafting from the school cafeteria just before lunch time. To this day she is grateful she was one of the many children who qualified to receive a free lunch at the Beech Avenue school, because otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to afford a hot lunch.
Wednesday, it clearly gave her great satisfaction to lead a press conference about a program sponsored by her employer, the Food Bank of WNY, which has adopted a BackPack program at the school to assure that no child will go hungry on weekends, thanks to a $7,200 grant from KeyBank.
Lawson, youth program supervisor for the Food Bank, was not the only one at the press conference who had roots at the school.
Marie Hare, KeyBank vice president of civic affairs, is also an alumni of Kalfas, but when she went to school there, it was called Beech Avenue Elementary. “I attended this school,” she said proudly. “And I know Henry J. Kalfas for whom the school is named. So it seems fitting to be able to provide this kind of support today.”
As a result of the program, children identified by their teachers will receive a backpack full of food to take home for the weekend, including milk, juice, macaroni and cheese, granola bars and much more. School counselor Rebecca Tantill noted that every child in the school qualifies for the free breakfast and free lunch program, so the need is great. The KeyBank donation will fund the program at the school for one year.
Lawson noted that the WNY Food Bank serves 16 elementary schools in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, including four schools in the Niagara region — Kalfas, Cataract Elementary, Harry F. Abate Elementary and the Niagara Charter School. There are 15 schools on the waiting list, she said.
“There are 3 more schools in the Niagara Falls area we would like to be helping, based on their need,” she added, noting that the public is encouraged to participate. “We need people who are committed to their school in their community. Even a small donation can go far,” she said.
School principal Mary Kerins welcomed the assistance. “A child who is not hungry is a child who can come in an learn and give it their best,” she said.
“We know you are making a positive difference,” Kerins told the KeyBank representatives at the event, who included Ralph Aversa, a senior loan officer, and Sharon Highfield, a vice president and manager of the bank’s Main Street branch. Also in attendance was Carol Palumbo, who helped bring the program to the school when she worked with Niagara Community Action — who has since taken a job at the WNY Food Bank, and Michael Billoni, public relations director at the food bank.
Afterward, the importance of the BackPack program was summarized by Lawson. “This isn’t so much charity, but an investment in these kids,” she said. “It’s not giving them a crutch today, it’s enabling them to be productive tomorrow.”
WANT TO HELP? Numbers to call to help with the BackPack Program: • Henry J. Kalfas Elementary School, 278-9180 • Food Bank of WNY, 852-1305