The Food Bank's Secret Weapon

by Joseph H. RADDER

Many would agree that the Food Bank of Western New York is one of the most worthy causes in our region. Established in 1983, the Food Bank distributed over 400,000 pounds of food to needy families in its first year. This year the total will be over 13 million pounds!

60 percent of the food donated comes from manufacturers, food processors, and food retailers. The people of Buffalo/Niagara do the rest, through cash and food donations. For example, there's the annual drive at supermarket check-outs.

One of the most important sources of public funds is the annual Fan Food Drive during one of the highlight games of the Buffalo Bills season at Ralph C. Wilson Stadium. And the Fan Food Drive has a secret weapon named Mary Wilson, aka Mrs. Ralph C. Wilson. Along with her husband, Mrs. Wilson is a staunch supporter of the Food Bank. Each year she gets personally and deeply involved in the Fan Food Drive.

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Mary Wilson.

Last year, Channel 2 caught Mary Wilson at the Food Bank preparing for the drive. She donned a Food Bank cap for the TV cameras and proceeded to hijack a fork lift truck and tool around the Food Bank warehouse, carrying a load of food on the fork-lift. Clearly, she was having the time of her life. "Go Food Bank!", she called as she rounded a corner of the warehouse.

Hugo Kahn, director of public relations for the Food Bank of Western New York said, "Mary Wilson can be counted on for hands-on help each year. She's out there on Fan Food Drive day collecting money and perishable foods at one of the stadium's gates, along with the players' wives, the Buffalo Jills, and Food Bank volunteers."

Not to be outdone by his beloved wife, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson matches every penny contributed by the public, and that's a sizeable sum each year Last year, the drive produced over $27,000 in cash contributions, and that amount was matched by Ralph Wilson and the Bills. .

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Mary and Ralph Wilson. Ralph Wilson and Blue Coat Elaine Wolfe.

"If you don't have food on the table, your problems are magnified," Mrs. Wilson said to Mary Friona of Channel 2 in reply to a question about her motivation for support of the Food Bank. Her enthusiasm was obvious as she said "If every seat in Ralph Wilson stadium and every seat in the HSBC arena were filled at the same time, that's how many men, women, and children the Food Bank feeds every month of the year."

Ralph and Mary Wilson, of course, are residents of Detroit, but it's clear that a large part of their hearts belong to Buffalo. "We love this city, this region. And we're grateful for the success we've had here," Mary Wilson said. The annual Food Bank Fan Food Drive is just one of the many ways the Wilsons give back to Buffalo.

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Dedicated Blue Coat volunteer Dan Centinello. Hugo Kahn.

"We should all be grateful," Kahn said.

1,235,000 meals per month to 100,000 plus individuals in over 29,000 households. That's the Food Bank's current claim to fame, but without Ralph and Mary Wilson and the Buffalo Bills that record could not be possible.

Joseph H. Radder is a feature writer for Living Prime Time. Both Radder and Publisher, Jerry Flaschner, are grateful to Hugo Kahn, PR Director of the Food Bank, for supplying information and photographs for this article.

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