The Rainbow of Help has been aiding families facing unexpected medical situations for more than 15 years.

It all started in 1998 when Bob MacFarlane’s daughter Melissa was seriously injured in an automobile accident. The family planned a fundraiser that was so successful people started asking for help planning their own fundraisers, and Rainbow of Help was born.

Today, the group has 38 adult volunteers and an additional 32 youth involved in Jr. Rainbow of Help. The hard-working group of volunteers plans three to four benefits per year and acts as consultants on many others.

“We get our members from all over. A lot of them are recipients and they join after we have a benefit, and others just attend a benefit and decide they want to help. It’s just a matter of wanting to pay it forward,” said MacFarlane, who now serves as president of the organization.

One such member is Debbie Bartenstein, who attended a benefit several years ago and has been an active member ever since.

“My friends and I went to Rainbow benefit and started talking to some of the members. They have us pamphlets and I decided to become a member,” Bartenstein said. Today, she is a valuable asset, and is in charge of running the kitchen at the benefits.

Christ Sposito also became a member after attending a benefit, as did Connie Kyle, who is largely responsible, along with Mike Little, for starting the Jr. Rainbow of Help at Newfane High School.

Kyle, who works at the school, started out by recruiting a few students to work at the benefits— mostly with clean-up and running the children’s play area — and after only a few years, more than 30 youth belong to the group.

“We do a presentation for the incoming ninth-graders. They can earn four years of volunteer credit and have fun while they’re doing it,” Kyle said.

In addition to the clean-up and running games for the children at benefits, the Jr. group helps out at Newfane Baptist Church, where Rainbow of Help is located, as well as volunteering at other places, such as Equi*Star, Veterans Hospital in Buffalo and at area nursing homes.

One of the Jr. members is Amanda Rance, whose sister, Dani Rance, is the recipient of the next Rainbow benefit on Sept. 12. Dani was paralyzed after falling off a horse.

Another Jr. member, Holly Kagels, said she enjoys helping out at the benefits.

“I like volunteering. I help clear tables and set up the (children’s) games,” Kagels said.

MacFarlane said that Rainbow runs its fundraiser on 100 percent donations and volunteer help. They don’t pay for anything, so that all the money raised can go to the family. All of the fundraisers follow the same formula — a large basket raffle, a spaghetti dinner, entertainment, a live auction and a 50/50 drawing. Members are divided up into different committees, and everyone has a specific job to do.

Little, who is one of the founding members of the group, said that fire halls across the region have been very generous in donating their hall space, and Newfane Baptist Church has provided a home base for Rainbow.

Members meet at 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Newfane Baptist Church, 6047 East Ave. Members are expected to attend meetings and help at fundraisers. Dues are $10 a year.

For those who don’t want to volunteer but would still like to help, donations are always gratefully accepted, MacFarlane said. Especially needed are gifts of spaghetti sauce and paper products, but baskets for the raffle, or even items that can be used in baskets are welcome.

And of course, donations of cash are always appreciated.

“I had one man come in and hand me a $1,000 check, and he didn’t want any recognition at all,” Little said.

Although Rainbow runs about four benefits a year, it serves as consultants on many others. The only criteria is that the family has to be located in Niagara County.

“There’s enough need right here in Niagara County to keep us busy,” MacFarlane said.

Kyle said that they recently traveled to Grand Island to consult with a group there.

“We’ll help them as much as they need. Sometimes we go back several times just to make sure they are successful,” Kyle said.

Many of the Rainbow members also lend a hand at the events if they’re needed.

“If they need our help, we’re there,” MacFarlane said.

For more information or to volunteer, stop in at a meeting or go to www.rainbowofhelp.org.

BE A JOINER

The Union-Sun & Journal has a regular Monday feature, “Be a Joiner,” which highlights some of the many volunteer organizations in our community — both large and small — that make our area a better place to live.

The purpose of the feature is to tell our readers a bit about the organization, its members, what it does in the community, as well as how you can join.

We know that there are plenty of people out there who would like to volunteer their time, they just don’t know how to go about it.

If you have an organization you would like featured, contact Anne Calos at anne.calos@lockportjournal.com or call 439-9222, ext, 6239.