Don’t tell these senior citizens to stay home and knit doilies.
Orchard Park seniors have been in the trenches at Buffalo Bills games – including Sunday’s home finale – selling beer and beef on weck.
It’s all to make money for a new senior center.
Sure, they sell candy bars, pancakes, Victorian tea, Christmas ornaments, note cards and chicken barbecue the rest of the year.
But one of their best fundraisers has been running a concession stand at Ralph Wilson Stadium during Buffalo Bills home games the past two years.
The Bills and DNC Sportservice allow nonprofit groups to earn money by working at concession stands. The Orchard Park Senior Council, the nonprofit group formed to raise money for the new center, started working the stand last year.
“There’s so many groups that benefit,” Hunt said. “We can’t thank them enough.”
Seniors sell hot dogs, pretzels, chips, peanuts, roast beef on kimmelweck rolls, soft drinks and Budweiser at the stand, and beer at a kiosk. They are trained on how to identify inebriated fans and how to deny them a sale, but Hunt said that’s very rare.
So rain or shine, whether it’s 75 degrees or 20 degrees, seniors – and their children and friends – man the stand at the stadium.
“I enjoy it,” said stand manager John Hunt, who is the son of Senior Council President Jacqueline Briggs. “It’s by far our best money-maker for the group.”
The volunteers get to the stadium between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. on game days, take inventory of the stand, and get ready for the gates to open. They leave about 5:30 p.m. The stand is No. 114, on the “visitors” side, so they see new customers each game.
“We try to make them feel welcome,” he said. “We do a lot of explaining to out-of-towners what a beef on weck is.”
They’re busy from the time the gates open at 11:30 a.m. through half-time, when beer sales end.
But the volunteers can’t see the game, and can only guess how things are going on the field from the cheers – or groans – from the stands.
“We count on customers to give us the score,” Hunt said.
“It’s a job,” said Al Szymanski, a member of the Senior Council. “You don’t go there for fun and games.”
The biggest game is opening day, and Sunday’s game – with wet weather and the Bills out of the playoff hunt – was among the slowest. The group earns a percentage of the food sales, and any tips the volunteers get are donated to the senior council.
“We can get a lot of tips on beer sales,” Hunt said.
The first few games are hot, Szymanski said.
“I worked in a factory, I know,” he said.
Later in the season it gets cold, particularly for the people manning the kiosk near the tunnel to the field.
Since the council incorporated Dec. 31, 2011, it has raised more than $75,000, including more than $15,000 over the past two years working the stand at the Bills games.
“I want to make sure we get a new senior center that is large enough for all the seniors and there is enough parking,” said Briggs.
The goal seemed far off several years ago, when seniors convinced Supervisor Janis Colarusso of the need for a new center. The current center on Linwood Avenue is 7,500 square feet with 25 parking spaces.
Colarusso signed on enthusiastically, and the idea for a senior center has morphed into perhaps a 30,000-square-foot community center, with room for seniors, youth and the entire community. She applauded the group’s groundwork and organization.
“I am sorry the community center did not happen under my watch,” Colarusso, who lost her re-election bid, said at her last Town Board meeting last week.
Meanwhile, Hunt, whose two sisters, Janet Hunt and Jennifer Ray, also work the stand, will be making plans for next year. He enjoys helping out, he said, adding, “sooner or later, I’ll be a senior.”