Hitting the pavement, manning the phone bank for the kids of western New York
By KATHERINE MOSTACCIO
They stood on residential streets of Erie County, PEF scarves draped over their shoulders and gloved hands holding special kids’ editions of The Buffalo News. Around their waists they wore Buffalo News Kids Day pouches ready to collect payment for the special issues to benefit John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.
On April 30, presented this year by Tops Friendly Markets, PEF members from Region 1 Western NY DDSO joined thousands of volunteers to sell the special edition.
“Thankfully it was a dry 40 degrees,” said PEF member Scott Dobe, a physical therapist at Western NY DDSO. “In years past we’ve had to survive driving rain and snowstorms. They used to do this in January in the morning. You couldn’t really see any newspaper vendor until 8 or 8:30. They’ve moved it up.”
In its 37th year, The Buffalo News Kids Day fundraiser has raised more than $4.8 million from partnerships, volunteers and more than 100,000 donors. PEF members have been participating for 26 years.
“It’s intended to raise funds for the women’s and children’s hospital in Buffalo,” Dobe said. “It was rebuilt last year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need anything. The hospital wants for new, updated equipment all the time. This is one of the ways they get money.”
The hospital is the only free-standing children’s hospital in New York state, according to its website, and one of only 43 in the country. It has 185 patient beds; 64 neonatal intensive care unit beds (making it the largest NICU in western New York); 20 pediatric intensive care unit beds; 48 pediatric medical/surgical beds; 14 operating rooms, and more.
A variety of family supports are on the fifth floor, including the Moore For Kids Family Resource Center, Stone’s Buddies, Libby’s Chapel, Tops Friendly Markets Winter Garden, Spiritual Care, and the Ronald McDonald house.
While PEF doesn’t staff the hospital, Dobe said PEF members in the surrounding area want to give back to their community and to the hospital. “We like to support causes like this one,” he said. “We have historically always sent out a handful of members to sell these papers for a couple of hours in the morning. We have just as many who are retired come out to help this day.”
Turnout this year was excellent, Dobe said. “You won’t believe how many people don’t have any money,” he said. “They are scraping the bottom of their cars. Because we are set up in a residential area, we have people go back to their house and come back with some money. People will give more than just a dollar. We usually generate about $500 worth of donations.”
They sell about 300 papers, at $1 a paper, so the extra money is coming in the form of donations over the cost of the paper. “The daily paper costs $1.50,” Dobe added. “This paper still sells for a dollar. It’s kind of neat how for this particular fundraiser they don’t ask for more, they just ask for any money. People tend to donate much more than that dollar.”
Volunteering for Kids Day serves another purpose — showing the community that state workers care. “PEF folks can do good in the community,” Dobe said. “We’re looking out for the community as a whole.”
Answering the Calls
Before the hustle and bustle of cars and newspapers — was the ringing of phone lines and pledges March 3 during the 2019 Variety Club Telethon, also in support of the Oishei Children’s Hospital and other children’s organizations in western New York, Dobe said.
“The telethon shows the world that unions aren’t a bad thing,” Dobe said. “It’s really nice to see all the unions come out.”
PEF was represented at this year’s telethon by PEF Division 167 Council Leader Stephanie McLean-Beathley, a licensed master social worker with Western NY DDSO, and PEF Member Joseph McCann, a senior administrative analyst with the state Gaming Commission.
“This is the first time PEF has been part of labor hour,” McLean-Beathley said. Labor hour is a dedicated hour of the 24-hour telethon where area labor unions come together and participate in the telethon, she explained. “The idea is to get your members to call in and pledge,” she said. “This is the first year we’ve had a seat and taken donations over the phone.”
The telethon is in its 57th year. Previously, PEF members have participated by buying or selling labor-related merchandise in support of the hospital. Getting to participate in labor hour was a new experience, and well worth the time.
“The response was good,” McLean-Beathley said. “There are celebrities on the dais with us, pumping up the audience, encouraging people to call. It’s a really good time to benefit a really good cause. And you get to interact with other unions.”
“The Goo Goo Dolls were there,” McCann said, referring to the world-famous American rock band that formed in Buffalo in 1986. “It’s their hometown. Every time a goal was put out, we met it.
“It’s a charity with a fantastic reputation in terms of providing resources to the hospital,” McCann said. “It was inspiring to be among the variety of union members who came out and volunteered time to raise money.”
McLean-Beathley recognizes the importance of giving back to the community. “People always think of state employees as taking,” she said. “But we live in the communities we work in. We give back and we participate in the communities.”
And McCann is already thinking of 2020. “I look forward to doing it again,” he said. “I think members of labor really stepped up to the challenge. They have no problem filling up the seats. All the unions wear their colors. We had shirts made this year. We’d love to see more PEF yellow during labor hour next year.”