Tonawanda News — “Warm clothes are always needed in Buffalo this time of year,” he said. “It’s sad when you hear ‘I need a blanket because I’m sleeping under a bridge on Michigan Street’ ... and we get them one. There’s no way I can even begin to comprehend staying outside on nights like this, with no way to get shelter.”
The sleep-outs were started in 1988 by Ken-Ton teacher Jerry Starr, for whom the event is now named. (There is also an event in Clarence.) Over the years, many of the same faces have gathered around the sleep-out campfire ... and some of those faces have grown up doing so.
Mike Kollmar, a Ken-Ton school district employee, has taken part in the event every year. For the last eight years or so, his son Blake has accompanied him.
“When you’re lucky and you’ve got heat and food and some people don’t ... no one in this country should not have food and a warm place,” he said. “We’re just trying to raise awareness.”
Deborah Finamore originally started sleeping out as part of the event 22 years ago, when she was a part-time nurse for the Ken-Ton School District, and brought her children, ages 4 and 7 at the time, with her. Then, about 10 years ago as part of a social justice group at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Kenmore, she recruited the church and school to help.
“We have been doing it ever since,” she said. “It just kept going. I’m happy our church got on board.”
While only two people from St. John, including Finamore, slept out this year, it’s been a team effort with many students involved in raising money for the campaign, Finamore said.
“People are regulars,” she said. “I am thrilled to be part of it; it just is a wonderful thing. I’m very glad I’ve been part of it.”