Sunday, March 21, 2021

Elmwood farmers market to open May 15

By Shania Santiago

          With spring in the air, bees aren’t the only one’s buzzing. Customers and vendors alike are awaiting news to see what the Elmwood Village Farmers Market will look like during the pandemic. Questions have arisen as to how the market will run this coming season as COVID-19 still lingers.   

         The market, located on Bidwell Parkway at Elmwood Avenue, is a producer-only market that gives local farmers and craftsmen the opportunity to sell their products. The selling season for the market is every Saturday, from May 15 to Nov. 27.

         The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of many spring and summer events, but the market managed to avoid being shut down last year. Bob Weiss, board president of the market,  aid it was an incredibly different environment compared to previous years.

         To keep up with state safety regulations, the entire layout of the market was changed. In addition to all in attendance being required to wear masks, vendor setups remained six feet apart to enforce social distancing. Vendors were supplied with hand sanitizer and served customers one at a time. Performances that were part of the market in past years were notably missing this time around.   

         “We really did try to pay attention to New York State and what they were putting forth and saying,” Weiss said.   

         Weiss said that there are still discussions to be had on how exactly the market will be handled this year. Since COVID-19 is still very much at play there is a good chance that the market  will follow similar procedures as last year.  

         “We are still going through the pandemic, we’re probably going to keep that same set up we had. It seemed to work pretty good,” Weiss said.

         Kerry Planck, owner of Alpine Made in South Wales, has been selling her handcrafted soap and skincare products at the market since 2012. Planck praised the regulations put in place by the market last year. She is grateful that last year’s market was still able to take place through the pandemic.

         “Had it closed down like many other venues it would have disenfranchised small farms, local farms that don’t have that other outlet to sell quite a bit of their products,” Planck said.

         Looking ahead, Planck is starting to prepare for this year's market. Depending on how everything goes, she may bring in a second helping hand for her tent.

         Matt Kauffman, manager of 5 Loaves Farm, a non-profit food farm located at 70 West Delevan Ave., is another vendor for the market. The farm has generated products such as its fresh produce, jams, and spices for the market since 2016. Like Planck, Kauffman approved of the COVID-19 regulations made for the market last year and admits he actually prefers the way it was set up. 

Kauffman said 5 Loaves Farm is starting to make early preparations for the market  this year.

         “We’ve ended up focusing a lot on our early spring production and sales, so that we can make sure at the beginning of the market season we have lots of food that we can be distributing to folks,” Kauffman said.

         The farmers market is currently accepting applications for vendors this year. More information about the market can be found on their website.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Neighborhood gets to the heart of hunger

 By Jonathan Schultz

     In this unprecedented time, more people than ever are facing food insecurity right here on the West Side and the surrounding areas. Community members and non-profit organizations have donated time, money and resources to fight hunger. Food insecurity is when a person doesn’t know where their next meal will come from.

            One community member has taken her own approach to help neighbors who might need extra food and other items. Megan Gerrity, a resident of Putnam Avenue, realized the need for food, clothing items, personal hygiene products and pet food. Gerrity has set up a table in her front lawn where anyone walking by can take items they need, no questions asked.

Megan Gerrity's table on Putnam Ave.

       “As it started getting colder, I realized there might be a different need. So I just started putting out food and clothing items just for people to take, share, donate or do whatever they want with,” Gerrity said. 

     She tries to leave the table outside as much as possible. It is usually there overnight as well so when people are walking home from work or out and about, they can still get these items.

            Easy things to grab like soups, canned meats, hats, gloves, socks, tissues, soap, deodorant and underwear are just some of the things available. Instant soup and juice are the most popular items people take.

            She gets occasional donations; Elmwood Pet Supplies has been a big contributor, donating pet food. Gerrity does take donations. She doesn’t have a website but one can donate using Venmo. Her Venmo tag is @megangerrity23

            “Heavy winds, the snow and the ice make it very difficult. Stuff will blow down the street and I don’t want to create problems with the neighbors. One night we had a heavy freeze and everything on the table was frozen the next day,” Gerrity said.

            FeedMore Western New York, a hunger relief non-profit organization, can attest to the greater demand for food brought on by the pandemic.

            The food insecurity rate for in Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara has increased by 41% due to the pandemic, One in six individuals in Western New York may be struggling with hunger as a cause of COVID-19, Catherine Shick, FeedMore communication director, said.  

             The organization has distributed enough food in 2020 to provide almost 16 million meals. That is about 4 million more meals than was done in the year before, when COVID-19 was not around.

             FeedMore partners with six food pantries, a soup kitchen, a youth snack program, two shelters, three backpack programs, and a group home on the West Side alone.

FeedMore’s pantry locator can help locate the location of assistance.

            The First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo’s Lyon Food Pantry, One Symphony Circle, has been serving the West Side community in one way or another for over 50 years.  Leaders there have seen an increase in demand for food items since the pandemic hit.

            “Prior to COVID we were doing 20 bags a week and we bumped it up to 30 bags now,” Christina Banas, the church’s business manager said.

            The pantry is open at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Volunteers ask no questions of the people that come in. No I.D. or government assistance is needed.

            “Every penny or canned good that comes in is donated. We do the shopping at Wegman’s and volunteers from church make the food bags,” Banas said.

            The church is always looking for donations whether it’s non-perishable food items or a monetary donation.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Opinions differ on Hotel Henry developer


Hotel Henry
By Rhiannon Browning

           Douglas Jemal, the proposed developer of Hotel Henry on the Richardson Olmsted Campus, is making favorable promises in advance of his takeover, but there have been differing opinions as to whether he is genuine.

            Jemal is negotiating to take over the 88-room hotel that closed Feb. 27. He already owns Seneca One Tower, Statler City and the Boulevard Mall and is about to acquired the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

            Tim Tielman, the director at the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, believes the hotel’s closure is not the end of the complex, he doesn’t think Jemal has good intentions for taking over.

            “His past redevelopments are ludicrous and antiurban to me,” Tielman said.

            Tielman has been involved in the project since the beginning of the reconstruction in 2002. He said that the state wasn’t originally going to spend money on the complex, but after finding a law that says New York has to maintain the structure of state landmarks, Tielman decided he was going to negotiate.

            “We basically told the state that they can either spend money on every single landmark that needs restoration or you can give us the money for this one building and we won’t make this a bigger deal,” Tielman said.

            The state put $75 million toward the complex which resulted in a design team of architects from all over the nation.

            Since becoming interested in Hotel Henry, Jemal has offered to reimburse couples the deposits on receptions had been cancelled when the hotel announced its closing. Tielman said that the notion of Jemal promoting this job as a charity is wrong.

            “He’s telling everyone there’s going to be playgrounds and everyone is going to get their money back and things are going to be changed, but the reality is that there is a master plan you have to follow,” Tielman said.

            Tielman said that the master plan works in favor of preservation because developers  have to follow those guidelines.

            Of the firms involved in the original reconstruction was Flynn Battaglia Architects. Peter Flynn, said that this project was one of the firm’s best accomplishments in regards to maintaining the history of the landmark.

            “It was really a really enjoyable project respecting the historic legacy of what is and was the Richardson Olmsted complex,” Flynn said.

            Flynn said that he and the partnering firms decided to design the restoration with the original layout in mind because most people have never been in the building. This was an opportunity for people to gain a better understanding of why a landmark like this should be preserved. In regard to Jemal’s plans in taking over, Flynn is excited to see what he will do with the campus.

            “There’s a very optimistic report on what’s happening with Jemal’s offer to take over the campus and renovate it,” Flynn said.

            A spokesperson for Jemal says that the transition between developments have not been finalized yet.

            “At the moment, we do not own the Richardson or Hotel Henry. We will have to wait until it is final or did not go through,” Sean Heidinger said.

Friday, March 12, 2021

School reaches out to students in pandemic

Lafayette International School

By Hannah Turnbull

            Education in America was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools across the country closed, students found themselves thrust into the world of virtual learning. The transition to online learning was a difficult one for many students. For English language learners, the changes were far more substantial.

       Lafayette International School, 370 Lafayette Ave., is a school comprised completely of English language learners in grades 9-12.    

            The services provided at Lafayette extend far beyond academics. The school focuses on meeting the physical, emotional, and mental needs of each student. Many of the students have just moved to the United States and need a support system to help them adapt. When the school was forced to close due to the pandemic, the staff sought ways to continue their services.

            “We really went into triage mode,” Principal John Starkey said.

           Starkey immediately looked to meet the students’ immediate needs.

            “Our first priority was looking at the socio-emotional and economic needs of our students,” Starkey said.

            One of the most important tasks was figuring out how to continue serving three daily meals to students. Many students and their families face economic hardships, and Lafayette seeks to relieve some of their financial burdens. The school opened 22 grab and go sites throughout the West Side, where families could come pick up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

            After reestablishing a nutrition source for students, the next priority was delivering the same quality of education to each student. Connecting with students proved to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Many families do not have access to reliable technology or Wi-Fi to accommodate online learning. After teaming up with Spectrum, around 700 Wi-Fi systems were given and installed in students’ homes. Staff at Lafayette paid home visits to the hard-to-reach students and assisted in the Wi-Fi installation.

            A mass distribution of iPads and laptops was organized to provide each student with a vessel to online learning. After connecting to each student and assuring they have the right equipment, it was time to begin the transition to online learning.

            “We had to figure out a way to deliver the same quality of learning while acknowledging that in-person teaching is contingent with relationship building,” Starkey said.

            Going from attending school daily to remote learning was a very difficult adjustment for English learning students. Lafayette is home to students placed in the lowest three levels of ESL. Initially many students found themselves frustrated and confused by the platforms of online learning. Keeping the students engaged in online learning was a difficult task. The school focused on peer collaboration, screen sharing, and breakout rooms with individual tutoring to keep the students on track with their learning.

            “I think missing the opportunity to have one-on-one clarification and expansion has been really detrimental,” Elizabeth Kuttesch, a teacher at Lafayette, said.

            Teachers at Lafayette have sought to maintain their relationships with students. Home visits and daily phone calls to families are made to regulate the well-being of students. 

            But for students, nothing quite replaces physically coming to school. For 10th  grader Laviba Akther, it’s the connections made at school that are missed the most.

            “I miss sitting and having breakfast and lunch with my friends and doing the after-school program with them,” Akther said.

            The relationships made at Lafayette are crucial to the development of students. Coming to school provided an outlet for meeting people and making friends as well as forming connections with staff.

            “Many of our students were traumatized that they weren’t allowed to come into the building,” Starkey said. 

            While Lafayette’s priority is education, the school encompasses all of the other factors that affect education. Ensuring that the students are healthy, safe, and happy is a part of its  motto. Lafayette is a safe haven for these students, and trauma only begins to explain their feelings when their school closed.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Artists wait for word on Allentown festival

Allentown Art Festival Followup: The 2021 Allentown Art Festival has officially been cancelled as of March 27th. The announcement, released via the festival’s Facebook page, states that COVID-19 restrictions for large group gatherings have prevented the return of the event this year. President of the Allentown Art Festival, Rita Harrington Lippman, is putting the safety of patrons, artists, and vendors first. Despite this news, Lippman remains hopeful for the festival's return for next year.  - Shania Santiago

By Shania Santiago

            As summer approaches, so does the annual Allentown Art Festival. At least, that is what local artists are hoping for. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, last year’s show could only be viewed remotely. Many await news in regard to how the festival will be handled this coming June. 

            For over 63 years, the festival has showcased hundreds of artists, including those from the West Side. Even after the cancellation of last year’s in-person show due to the pandemic, 379 artists in 10 separate categories were displayed on its website.

            In the form of a virtual show, each artist was listed along with pictures of their five pieces and booth setup. In some cases, links to their online shops were also provided for those attending the virtual show to browse.

            The festival gives artists a platform to display their work to the public, as well as gives them the chance to sell their work. Those who attend the festival can potentially become customers of the selected artists. 

            “That show accounts for probably 40 or 50 percent of my income for the whole year,” David Manny said.  

Greeting card by David Manny

            Manny, founder of Feel Good Greetings Ink and Buffalo Treasures, is one of these artists. Manny has been a part of the festival for a total of 32 years, including last year’s virtual show.

            Manny said that he did not sell any of his work, a variety of calendars, magnets, stones, or dish towels, during last year’s virtual show.

            “They tried very hard in a time where everything was going down, nobody was spending any money anyway because they didn’t know when this thing was going to be over,” he said.

            The festival is accepting applications for 2021 via its  website. The 64th annual Allentown Art Festival is set to take place June 12 and 13 of this year.

            As of right now, it remains unknown under what circumstances the show will be held under with the pandemic still in the mix.  Festival officials are unsure of their plans.  

            “As of now we are preparing to have our festival. But the how is not yet known,” festival officials wrote on Facebook.

            Manny is hopeful that with the proper regulations put in place, this year’s festival could potentially take place in person.

            “People have been pent up for so long that we have to show, even if we’re distancing and masking,” he said.

            Alison Kurek has taken part in many of the Allentown festivals  in past years. While Kurek was technically a part of last year’s virtual show, she does not believe much came from it as far as her acrylic paintings and synthetic clay pieces being sold.

            Kurek does plan on taking part in this year’s show, if it happens. In the meantime, her work can be viewed in ShopCraft, 773 Elmwood Ave., on online in her Etsy store.

            “I’ve applied for this year’s show but who knows if it‘ll happen. If it does and I’m accepted into the show I’ll participate, but there will be a lot of restrictions,” she said. “Like most artists I’m in wait and see mode right now.”