Members Support Non-Profit


Rosa Martinez-Pickard helps Rob Kawejsza pack desserts into the containers to be delivered.

Sophie and Dad

Rob and Sophie Kawejsza, at Golisano Children’s Hospital


Dan Prell mans the grill, cooking burgers and hot dogs.

Sophie’s Giving Tree benefits from a luncheon held by West Genesee’s Transportation Department

In a touching show of solidarity, the Transportation Department at West Genesee Central School District, represented by SEIU Local 200United, came together to support a non-profit organization founded by a fellow bus operator. Sophie’s Giving Tree benefited from a luncheon held Friday, October 10, just outside the bus garage. The $5 meal consisted of a hamburger, cheeseburger or hot dog, salt potatoes, baked beans, cole slaw and dessert. The event raised $1,400.

Robert and Jenee Kawejsza founded Sophie’s Giving Tree in 2012 after their daughter Sophie, diagnosed with a brain tumor, died. All funds raised in Sophie’s name are donated to families whose children are being treated at the Upstate Golisano Hospital Center for Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders in Syracuse. Except for a specialized radiation treatment in Bloomington, Indiana, all of Sophie’s medical care took place at the Children’s Hospital.

Items purchased with Giving Tree monies include meal cards and gas cards; the group also provides financial support for families for items such as bill payment, groceries and travel assistance. The group even held a Build-a-Bear event in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit so the children could make their own stuffed animal.

Fellow Union member and bus operator Joe Hrabowski, who owns Johnny Joe S Catering in Syracuse, approached the Kawejszas. “He said he has an abundance of food that he won’t be using because he doesn’t cater during the winter,” said Michele Rether, Union Steward. “His idea was to hold a luncheon in Sophie’s name, with all the proceeds going to Sophie’s Giving Tree.”

Added Kawejsza, “The event grew from Joe’s thoughts, news got to other West Genesee school facilities, and we ended up taking pre-orders. It just exploded.”


Val Morgan and Christine Lansley prepare the lunches for delivery.

Members of the Transportation Department placed flyers in each of the district’s buildings announcing the luncheon and even offering delivery; a crew kept busy filling Styrofoam containers for delivery while Rether consulted a flow chart showing whose lunches had been delivered, and whose were in the queue. As of October 6, 80 presale tickets had already been purchased, according to Rether. The goal was 100 lunches sold but closer to 200 were purchased. “We anticipated that we’d raise $500,” Rether said. “A lot of people paid more than $5. We sent 103 lunches out to our schools.”


SEIU Local 200United rep Jody DelBrocco (left) visits with unit Chair Jim Alexander.

“The luncheon exceeded my expectations,” said Kawejsza, “that’s for sure. Everybody here is so supportive through everything we went through with Sophie and after the fact,” Kawejsza said, “and that’s been nice.”

West Genesee’s Transportation Department group may continue holding a fundraiser of this nature annually, with other non-profits benefiting.


Patti Clark keeps the hot dogs warm.

The luncheon came a week after Sophie’s Giving Tree’s second annual fundraiser, Sophie’s Skate-a-Thon, was held on the ice skating rink at nearby Shove Park. That brought in $11,000. The Kawejszas intend to keep raising funds to assist families needing the services at the Children’s Hospital and hope to fund a scholarship for a student graduating in Sophie’s class 2021. “We also want to keep growing the Giving Tree to provide more help every year.”

If you want to make a donation, or find out another way to help Sophie’s Giving Tree, visit


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