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Hands 4 Hope has been sharing food and prayers for 3 years

Photos by Tom Rivers: These Hands 4 Hope volunteers were out in 15-degree weather Saturday outside the Hoag Library. They include, from left: Kevin Lemcke, Lurando Mata, Jack Burris, Darrell Burgio, Dan Conrad and Thom Jennings.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2019 at 11:44 am

ALBION – On Saturday, with temperatures in the teens and wind blowing in their face, volunteers were ready to give out food, clothes, kind words and prayers.

The Hands 4 Hope ministry has been doing it for three years. Jack Burris and a team of volunteers have been consistent going to four different locations each month.

Inside the van, the Hands 4 Hope team takes prayer requests. This group includes, from left: Kevin Lemcke, Pat Murray, Ron LaGamba and Jack Burris.

They give out about 20 “shares” or bags of food each week, and have tables set up with free clothes. Burris has repurposed a red delivery truck into the base for the ministry. People can go inside the truck and are welcome to share a prayer request.

The truck has been dubbed “Clifford” and has become a frequent sight in the community, even appearing in Medina’s Parade of Lights.

Burris, owner of a carpet cleaning business, modelled Hands 4 Hope after the Care-A-Van Ministries in Batavia.

“We’ve become a family,” Burris said about the Hands 4 Hope volunteers and the people they serve. “It’s not an us-and-them thing, it’s a we thing. We’ve definitely built a community.”

On Saturday, in the bitter cold, about 10 volunteers were outside the Hoag Library at Hands 4 Hope. They distributed 22 bags of food, which also included toilet paper, dish soap and other supplies.

An anonymous benefactor funded the effort until very recently. Now community donations keep it going. Burris said people continue to step forward to support the ministry, whether with donations or by helping as volunteers.

“I definitely enjoy the heck out of it,” he said. “I feel blessed.”

Hands 4 Hope has tables out with clothes that are available for free.

Hands 4 Hope is in Medina the first Saturday each month at Orient and Starr streets. That site has been busier since the MAAC Clothing Depot opened across the street.

The second Saturday, Hands 4 Hope is at Holley in the Public Square, usually parking in front of the former bank.

The third and fourth Saturdays are in Albion, at the Hoag Library parking lot the third Saturday and over on Lydun Drive the fourth Saturday. When there’s a fifth Saturday, Hands 4 Hope usually takes the day off.

The ministry averaged 88 shares a month of food in 2018, which was up from about 80 in 2017.

Burris said Hands 4 Hope has been buying in bulk to stretch out its dollars. It has been operating on the Christ Church in Albion’s liability insurance. Christ Church runs the Community Kitchen on Fridays at Albion.

About six months after Hands 4 Hope started, The Orleans County Democratic Committee donated coats and clothes. Now, many people have donated winter jackets, pants, shirts and other clothing.

“The clothes are huge,” Burris said.

People have donated tables and clothing bins as well, and Aggie Recco leads the effort to organize the clothes.

Some of Burris’s customers in his cleaning business know about Hands 4 Hope and they have donated clothes and luggage. The suitcases are a hot commodity because Burris said there are many people who don’t have their own place to live. They have most of their belongings in suitcases, and they stay temporarily on other peoples’ couches.

Pat Murray writes down a prayer concern.

Burris said a core of volunteers have been with the ministry since soon after the first Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Darrell Burgio, Thom Jennings, Kevin Lemcke, Brian Stewart, Ron LaGamba and others all help the ministry happen, helping to pack food, set up tables and be an encouraging presence to people who stop by the red truck.

Jennings said he can relate to people who are struggling to pay their bills. He was a single father with young children about two decades ago. He said Hands 4 Hope doesn’t look down on anyone who stops by the truck. There isn’t any paperwork to fill with income criteria.

“In the beginning, people were super suspicious and then they realize there is no catch,” Jennings said. “A lot of people come up to the truck and they appreciate all the blessings in their life.”

People have asked for prayers, sometimes for a different job or a health concern. They often come back, weeks or month later, with good news to share.

“I respect and appreciate the power of prayer,” Jennings said. “It lets you know you are not alone.”

The prayers are all kept confidential. And the ministry remains an act of faith, without a firm plan for keeping it sustainable long-term.

“Everything is put in the hands of God,” Jennings said.

To make a donation, send to Hands 4 Hope, P.O. Box 495, Albion NY 14411.

The red van, “Clifford,” visits four locations each month. On Saturday, Hands 4 Hope was outside Hoag Library from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

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Fundraiser started for couple injured in Albion fire

Photo by Tom Rivers: Heavy smoke comes from home of Vincenzo and Felicia Spampanato on Wednesday at Albion. The couple is in guarded condition at the burn unit at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2019 at 9:58 am

GoFundMe: Sarah Fowler started a GoFundMe to assist her grandparents, Vince and Felicia Spampanato, after a fire at their Albion home last week.

ALBION – A GoFundMe has been started to help an Albion couple who injured in a fire last Wednesday at their home on Elmwood Avenue.

Sarah Fowler said her grandparents, Vincenzo and Felicia Spampanato, are being treated at the burn unit at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

“It’s a true miracle they made it out of there alive,” Fowler writes on GoFundMe. “Some of you may know my grandpa as ‘Vince in the deli’ at Albion Walmart. My grandpa loved what he did.”

Fowler said her grandfather used to own his own deli. “It was always my favorite place to be when I was younger.”

Her grandma also has a love for cooking.

“They have always done so much for me, I put this together with hopes to try to help them,” Fowler writes. “It’s been a devastating few days and anything is more than helpful and appreciated as my grandparents have lost everything and have a long way to go before they can begin to heal and hopefully rebuild a place they can call ‘home’ again.”

The Spampanatos were able to get out of their house at about 6:21 p.m. on Wednesday after an explosion in the basement, which resulted in the house becoming heavily involved in fire.

Mr. Spampanato was performing maintenance on a gas heating appliance in the basement of the residence when an explosion occurred, Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni said.

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Circus returns with lots of razzle-dazzle

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 January 2019 at 10:33 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Byron Neal, 4, of Albion is excited to have a lighted sword at Billy Martin’s Cole All-Star Circus, which visited Albion High School this evening.

The circus returned to Albion with the cast performing many daring feats and some comedic routines at the high school gym. Some of the proceeds benefit the Close-Up program which takes students to Washington, D.C.

The circus was in Holley on Wednesday. Billy Martin’s has two shows (5 and 7:15 p.m.) in Medina on Friday at the middle school, and will be in Kendall at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25.

Ivan Arestov balances high on a tower of chairs 25 feet in the air. The Russian artist also juggled three-dimensional geometric shapes and provided some comic relief with a silly strongman character.

Sasha Arestov, Ivan’s brother, spins a hoop with his top hat. Sasha is a fifth generation hoop artist.

Elena amazed the crowd with many quick costume changes that seemed like magic. She had eight different costumes on, changing in only seconds.

Elena appears with another different outfit after Alex, in back, covered her briefly with a cape.

JP Toscano, a fourth generation circus performer from South America, provided some comedic relief, teaming with co-star “Jack.”

Wesley Williams. “The One-Wheeled Wonder,” rides a unicycle during in the show ring.

Ivan wore a strongman costume to the delight of the youngsters at the circus.

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Couple injured in Albion fire are in guarded condition

Photos by Tom Rivers: Firefighters work to put out a fire at 5 Elmwood Ave. in Albion on Wednesday night. This photo is from the back of the property.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 January 2019 at 1:53 pm

ALBION – The Albion couple who were seriously injured in Wednesday’s fire at 5 Elmwood Ave. are in guarded condition in the burn unit at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, Police Chief Roland Nenni said.

Vincenzo Spampanato, 81, and Felicia Spampanato, 72, had recently moved into the house on Elmwood.

The Albion Police Department and Albion Fire Department were dispatched to the site at 6:21 p.m.  after a report of heavy smoke coming from the residence and possible explosions.

The Spampanatos were found in the front yard suffering from burn injuries.

Vincenzo Spampanato was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital by Mercy Flight. Felicia Spampanato was transported by Central Orleans Volunteer Ambulance (COVA) to Strong Memorial Hospital.

The initial investigation has revealed that Vincenzo Spampanato was performing maintenance on a gas heating appliance in the basement of the residence when an explosion occurred, ultimately resulting in the house catching fire and becoming heavily involved in fire.

The Investigation into the cause of the explosion and resulting fire is being conducted by the Albion Police Department, Orleans County Fire Investigation Unit, Orleans County Emergency Management Office, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control and New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG).

The investigation is ongoing at this time, Nenni said.

Mr. Spampanato is well known by many in Albion for his job working in the deli at the Albion Walmart. The couple moved from Carlton to the dead-end street in the village about a month ago.

Firefighters were at the 20-degree scene for several hours on Wednesday.

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2 seriously injured in Albion fire on Elmwood Avenue

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 January 2019 at 7:34 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

(UPDATED at 8:55 p.m.)

ALBION – Two people have been seriously injured and taken to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester after a fire at their home, 5 Elmwood Ave.

The two people, an elderly couple, suffered burns and smoke inhalation, said Roland Nenni, the Albion police chief.

Neighbors said the couple just moved into the house about a month ago.

Elmwood is a dead-end street in the northern part of the village, off Linwood Avenue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 6:22 p.m. Albion and many other local fire departments battled the fire, which spewed smoke into the neighborhood.

Albion police were first on the scene at 6:24 and discovered the couple in the front yard with their clothes on fire, said Nathanial Staines, an Albion place officer and the public information officer.

A man was taken by Mercy Flight. A second Mercy Flight helicopter was called, but it wasn’t immediately available so the woman was transported to Strong by COVA Ambulance.

Firefighters try to ventilate the smoke-filled house.

Investigators with the Albion Police Department and the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control are working with county fire investigators to determine a cause.

Staines said more information will be released to the public on Thursday.

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Albion man, 93, is determined to put together world’s largest puzzle with 40,320 pieces

Photos by Tom Rivers: Garland Miller completed this puzzle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It took about 10 weeks. It is one of 10 Disney scenes that are part of an enormous puzzle that he said will keep him busy for a while.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2019 at 7:35 pm

Garland Miller is making progress with ‘The greatest challenge in the history of puzzles’

Garland Miller sorts the puzzle pieces by colors in about a dozen different trays.

ALBION – Garland Miller leans over the table and stretches out his right arm. He has a puzzle piece gripped with tweezers. He thinks he found the spot for the piece, but the shape is just a little bit off.

Miller shrugs.

“It’s one piece at a time,” he said today in the living room at his home on Route 31, just west of Walmart.

Miller, 93, is called a puzzle master by his family. He has done numerous puzzles with 500, 750, 1,000, 2,500 pieces and more.

In 2017, he finished his most ambitious puzzle with 9,000 pieces. That puzzle about astrology was very challenging with a dark sky constellation. It hangs in the stairwell of the Pratt building in downtown Albion. The finished puzzle is covered in a thin translucent coating of glue.

After Miller was done with that puzzle, he worked on some smaller ones and then declared he was ready for a bigger challenge. His family found the world’s largest puzzle, the Guinness World Record for a largest commercially available puzzle in the world.

The 40,320-piece puzzle includes 10 scenes from famous Disney films. The puzzle weighs 43 pounds. When it’s finished, it stretches 22 ½ feet long and 6 ½ feet tall. It is produced by Ravensburger, which calls 40,320-piece, “The greatest challenge in the history of puzzles.”

“Do you have what it takes to assemble one of the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle?” the company states in advertising the puzzle. “Take the Ravensburger challenge and find out! You’ll be committing roughly 600 hours of puzzle fun to this masterpiece. Imagine the pride you’ll feel when it’s finished.”

The puzzle has 10 bags with about 4,000 pieces for each of the 10 Disney scenes. Miller first went to work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He started in September and was done before Christmas. It was about a 10-week effort.

Miller found all the right places for the puzzle pieces with the Snow White scene. After 2 1/2 months, he was only 10 percent done with the puzzle.

Miller remembers watching the Snow White movie in 1937 at the former Rialto Theatre on Main Street in Albion. That building, next to the former Swan Library, is now a gym and liquor store owned by Vinny Navarra.

Photo courtesy of Terry Miller: Gina Miller and her father-in-law Garland are shown today with the 9,000-piece astrology puzzle that hangs in the stairwell at the Pratt building in Albion.

“I still think it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen,” Miller said. “It was all hand-drawn, not like they do it today.”

His daughter-in-law Gina Miller often joins him on the puzzle projects. She said it can be mind-numbing and frustrating to get the pieces it the right spots. So many have the same shape and color. But her father-in-law notices the subtleties.

He has a dozen trays with groupings of pieces by color. He then will sort those into smaller groups based on shapes.

“It’s a continual sort, starting with the color families,” Gina Miller said.

Garland has developed his own system for the big puzzles. He hasn’t watched a YouTube video or read books with tips.

Garland said you need a system, and lots of time.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “It keeps me out of mischief. I’m not hanging out at any bars.”

Miller is a World War II veteran. He was an ambulance driver in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he worked 21 years as a heavy equipment mechanic for the state Department of Transportation in Pittsford and then close to home in Albion. He also drove a tractor-trailer for 28 years and worked part-time for an auctioneer in Middleport.

He has been busy in his retirement, visiting all 50 states. He stays active, and doesn’t take any medication.

He has done puzzles since he was a kid, finding them to be relaxing. He did many with his grandchildren, and other family and friends. He and his late companion Mary Roth also conquered many puzzles together.

After Miller completed the Snow White scene last month, he went to work the next day on a scene from Fantasia with Mickey Mouse. That one has been difficult with so many similar-looking pieces. Miller has Mickey Mouse in that puzzle nearly done – only a few missing pieces. The top is also finished.

Garland Miller eyes a puzzle with Mickey Mouse in the movie, Fantasia. He is making progress, but still has a ways to go.

If each of the 10 scenes in the giant puzzle takes about 2 1/2 months, the entire puzzle will take just over two years.

It will be so big, Miller won’t have room to display it in his house. He and his family would like to see it up in the community when it’s all together.

But he still needs to complete Fantasia, and then there’s 4,000-piece puzzles of Peter Pan, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Lion King.

Gina and Terry Miller hold the box showing how the finished puzzle will look. The 10 Disney scenes are interconnected.

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Albion school district will host large first responder drill in March

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 January 2019 at 8:34 am

ALBION – The school district will host a large “active incident drill” in March that will include law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders, as well as staff at a local hospital.

Michael Bonnewell, the district superintendent, said the exact date isn’t scheduled yet due to the coordination involved with so many of the participants.

“This will be the largest scale drill for the county, yet,” Bonnewell told the Board of Education on Monday.

The drill will be on a day when there isn’t school. Teachers and staff will role-play teachers, students and parents.

Medina and Kendall both hosted active incident drills last year for first responders.

At Medina on April 20 last year, police arrived in stages to simulate the response to an incident at a school. The drill focused on tactics in finding the suspect, emergency communications and mass casualty treatment and response.

The drills help local law enforcement improve their response to minimize chaos and casualties.

Bonnewell also updated the Board of Education on a new school resource officer. Interviews will start within the next week and will include six representatives from the school district and two from the Albion Police Department.

The district is working with the Albion Police Department to have an officer dedicated full-time to the district.

The officer will be a member of the Albion Police Department and will at the district during the school year. The officer will be available during the summer for road patrols and other duties outside the school district.

The district has approved paying $81,250 annually towards the officer. That will be pro-rated depending on the start date this school year.

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Albion seeks additional study if there is high incidence of cancer among elementary school staff

Photos by Tom Rivers: Angie Wolfe, a kindergarten teacher who has worked at the Ronald L. Sodoma School the past 19 years, addresses the Albion Board of Education on Monday. Wolfe was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 20, 2018. She asked the board to have outside experts look at what she believes is a high rate of cancer and serious illnesses among staff and teachers at the school building.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 January 2019 at 7:45 am

ALBION – The Albion Teachers Association is asking the Albion Board of Education for a deeper investigation into why there have been so many incidents of cancer and serious illness among elementary teachers and staff.

Angie Wolfe, a kindergarten teacher who was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, said she is one of 22 teachers or staff who have been diagnosed with breast cancer at the elementary school fairly recently. Wolfe has worked in the school for 19 years.

She is one of nine teachers or staff diagnosed in the past five years. In the past 10 years, it’s 16 employees at the school. Going back more than 10 years, it’s 22 people diagnosed with breast cancer at the elementary school. Other employees have had other serious illnesses. The middle and high schools have far fewer cases of serious illness among staff and teachers, she said.

A staff member at the elementary school who recently successfully battled breast cancer attended the Board of Education meeting on Monday.

She told the Board of Education the “alarming number” of people with serious health issues warrants a deeper investigation. She and other members of the Albion Teachers Association made a map showing where in the building the staff and teachers worked who became seriously ill. Wolfe said “the vast majority” tended to be in the original school building from the 1950s – wings A and G, the cafeteria and the district office.

Chris Keller, the Teachers Association president, said teachers are concerned   about the safety of the building.

“The number of serious illnesses makes it imperative that we take a closer look,” he told the Board of Education on Monday.

Last month the district presented a report from WorkFit Medical for its assessment of the incidents of cancer and serious illness among elementary teachers and staff. WorkFit provides medical services to the school district and other districts and businesses in Western New York.

In a Nov. 27 letter to Michael Bonnewell, the Albion school superintendent, WorkFit officials say the rate of breast cancer occurrence at the elementary school is actually lower than the national average.

At Albion Elementary it’s one in 19 women compared to the national average of one out of eight women getting breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the letter from C. Jay Ellie, MD, general director of WorkFit Medical, and Heather Hosking, director of occupational and comprehensive school health for WorkFit Medical.

That report from WorkFit didn’t satisfy the Teachers Association. School officials learned last week the Teachers Association wanted further study of the issue.

The board and school administration in the past week have reached out to outside experts – its insurance company, the Orleans County Health Department, the NYS Department of Health, and Cornell’s University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Workplace Health and Safety Program.

Margy Brown, the BOE president, said the district will await direction from those groups. WorkFit advised the district that “environmental factors” in a building don’t cause breast cancer.

Wolfe urged the district to have an outside independent agency look at air and water quality and as well as environmental factors in the building.

“Please believe we want nothing more than the safety of our buildings for our students and for you,” Brown said at the meeting, which was attended by many elementary teachers and staff, some wearing T-shirts with the names of employees who have fought cancer.

The Teachers Association presented a packet with some new information to the Board and administration on Monday. Brown said they will review that information and respond to the Teachers Association soon, likely within a week.


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Boil water advisory lifted after Health Department testing

Photo by Tom Rivers: Crews are shown working to repair a watermain break on Tuesday on North Main Street. The Orleans County Health Department said the water is safe to drink without being boiled.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 January 2019 at 1:16 pm

ALBION – The Orleans County Health Department has lifted a boil water advisory for part of Albion at about 1 p.m. today after a second day of testing showed no bacteria in water samples.

The advisory was issued on Tuesday for water customers in an area mostly confined to Route 98 between Bank Street and Bacon Road, and the side streets off 98 in that section.

The Village of Albion Department of Public Works was alerted at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, New Year’s Day, about a water leak. A 10-inch water main suffered a major break.

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Boil water advisory could be lifted this afternoon

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 January 2019 at 9:48 am

ALBION – The Orleans County Health Department could lift a boil water advisory for water customers in Albion, in an area mostly confined to Route 98 between Bank Street and Bacon Road, and the side streets off 98 in that section.

The first round of tests showed there wasn’t any bacteria. If the samples at 12:53 p.m. today show no bacteria, the advisory will be lifted in early afternoon.

The water customers have been under a boil water advisory since a water main break on New Year’s Day. A chunk of a cast-iron watermain burst, just north of the Erie Canal.

The Village of Albion Department of Public Works worked all night on Tuesday and were joined by other municipal crews from Tuesday morning until the section of pipe was replaced and the road put back together late Tuesday afternoon.

Jay Pahura, the Albion DPW superintendent, said he appreciated the help from the Village of Medina DPW, and the highway departments from Albion, Barre, Carlton, Gaines and Murray.

“They just showed up on their day off, on a holiday,” Pahura said about the assistance from the towns and Medina. “It was a real community effort.”

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