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For the Benefit of ...

Local people like to help those in need

July 6, 2008
The Leader Herald

By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

When a local family is burdened with a serious disease or loss, a benefit put on by friends or family often comes to the rescue.

June 28, a benefit for Garry Jackson at the Mayfield Servicemens Club appeared typical of local fund raising efforts for a particular need.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Amy Hasenfuss helps Valerie Jackson mix chocolate pie filling at Mama Karen’s Deli in Gloversville Tuesday.

The benefit was partly the brainchild of Mindy Hasenfuss who works with her mother Karen Hasenfuss at Mama Karen's Deli in Gloversville.

"I had a benefit thrown for me by employees of [Fulton County Department of Social Services] when my mother worked there," Hasenfuss said.

"I thought, 'Why not do the same thing for [Jackson]?'"

Mindy Hasenfuss asked Hank Akowicz, a member of the club, if the benefit could be there.

"We have benefits there without charge as long as a member is present," Akowicz said. "I had to be there throughout, which was fine, since I have connections to both the Jacksons and Hasenfuss families."

Jackson is out of work from Kucel Contracting due to a rare kidney disease. His wife, Stacy, said she'd known Karen Hasenfuss most of her life as neighbor and family friend and Garry Jackson's sister Valerie was on the staff at Mama Karen's.

Mama Karen's and Kucel Contracting were co-sponsors of the event. Janet and Stan Kucel were at the event even though their daughter had just graduated from Mayfield High School that day.

"We wouldn't have missed it," Kucel said. "[Jackson's] a great guy."

Valerie Jackson said Garry was her "little brother," and was both a good father and a good provider who needed help himself now due to the disease.

"His doctor said he's only seen seven cases of the disease in his practice," Valerie Jackson said. "His kidneys are shutting down."

Money raised at the benefit was going towards medical bills and travel expenses, Jackson said.

Karen Hasenfuss said this was her first fund raiser she had undertaken to sponsor although she contributes food to many benefits during the year.

It was also Kelly Morrison's first benefit attempt last July when she had a benefit to raise money for an accessible van for her step-son Jason Morrison who has muscular dystrophy.

"A friend donated the use of the Eagle's Hall in Johnstown as their donation," Morrison said. "All the food was donated too."

Both benefits had raffles as well as donations for food and other items donated.

"We raised enough money to buy a good used van, so it was successful," Morrison said. "It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it."

Morrison said there are so many benefits going on that it is harder to get food and other items donated than it used to be.

"Everybody does their benefit a little differently," Morrison said. "We just had one for Martha Wood at the Johnstown school bus garage. She has cancer and has been having [chemotherapy]."

Morrison said the benefit for Wood was at the Redmans Hall in Johnstown in June.

"The benefit did well, but it's getting harder all the time," Morrison said. "People just don't have the money to give."

Toni Smith of St. Johnsville is organizing a benefit for Alexandra Handy, 3, diagnosed with leukemia, to be Aug. 9 at the H.C. Smith Benefit Club. It will have both lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. Activities for that benefit include raffles, live auction, live bands Lickety Split and Total K.A.O.S., Electric City Clown Alley and face painting.

"It was my idea," Smith said. "I wrote it up and printed up the flyers. Alex's mom baby sat for me and my kids play with her kids."

The family connection is often a big part of the reason when someone chooses to sponsor a benefit. Hasenfuss, Morrison and Smith each had that connection.

"And it just feels good to do it," Smith said. "We've got donation cans out at various places, but we expect most of the money will come in that day."

Smith said she was being helped by the St. Johnsville Lutheran Church and a group called Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and also by the H. C. Smith Benefit Club of Crum Creek Road in St. Johnsville.

Paul Bacca is president of the club and said the group was incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1962.

"It was originally called the Hole in the Wall Gang when my uncle was a member," Bacca said. "It was organized to help local people who were having a hard time."

Bacca said they have pork roasts in the evening and "all kinds of other events."

"We started planning this one five months ago," he said. "It will be huge. We expect 700 people that day."

Bacca said other activities include a "shaving your head for Alex" participation with money donated to the fund as well.

"The club is a great organization," Bacca said. "A committee headed up by Smith has been meeting weekly with 5 to 10 people attending regularly."

Bacca said the club has Christmas and Halloween parties, benefits for Little League, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and "lots of fund raisers."

"There are 35 members in St. Johnsville," he said. "We do so many benefits it's hard to keep track of them all. It takes a lot of work to bring one together."

Bacca said anyone wanting to have a benefit through his organization must be local, be able to prove a need and have their own committee to help.

Smith and her committee are doing an awesome job," he said. "They had no idea how much work it would be. They'll be lunatics when they're done," he said with a laugh.

Bacca added that with rising gas and food costs, "people are against the wall."

"There isn't that much here [to help people in need,]" Bacca said. "I don't know that much about [Handy's] condition, but I do know how to raise money."

Bacca said the club had raised over $100,000 last year for various causes.

"We don't take a dime and we don't discriminate," he said. "We've been going for 46 years in August and not one person has taken a penny for anything we've done in all that time," he said. "Everything is done by volunteers, including the bartenders. Even their tips go towards the benefit."

Bacca admitted bills for the benefit club were rising, but he said, "We're coping."

"The people who give, don't have it to give, [but they give] because they know what it's like," Bacca said. "Blue collar people give the most."

For more information about the Alexandra Handy benefit call Toni Smith at 568-2552.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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