In the small town of Forest City, there are a group of people making life a lot better for those around them. They do it quietly, namelessly and without any publicity.
Christ Episcopal Church members, beginning six years ago, distributed food to people in need in their community. Recently, the project ceased but in closing one door, they opened another.
In response to a newly identified need, Christ Church is now planning for basic level cooking classes to be held at the church. To begin, classes will consist of six families with children. Parents will cook dinners with the assistance of a volunteer chef and children will be tended to by volunteer caretakers. All families will dine together after the dinners are prepared. In all, six classes are expected to be held over a six week period. On the seventh week, the families will be given a voucher for groceries and accompanied to a grocery store with a shopping advisor who will make recommendations for grocery purchases.
This year will be the 10th year of the church’s association with the American Legion of Montrose Post 154 in distributing winter coats to people in need. Christ Church conducts its own annual coat drive, adding 100-150 coats to the collection of nearly 300 coats provided by the American Legion.
Over the past several years, Christ Church has purchased hundreds of new children’s coats to add to the coats available for distribution. Throughout the years, the church’s distribution has expanded into hats, gloves and blankets that have been donated by parishioners, and some items have been knitted or crocheted by parishioners. All items are given free to anyone who comes through the door, no questions asked.
The distribution at Christ Church is usually held in mid-to-late October for a three-day period. During the three-day distribution church members assist anyone who comes looking for a warm winter coat. Each year, between 150 to 200 coats from Christ Church find a new home.
The free community luncheon program, which began in January of 2016, is also still going strong and a sign of hope for many. The luncheon, providing a different meal every month, is attended by up to 70 people in one seating. Usually held on the fourth Saturday of each month, the Stone Soup Kitchen comes alive with church volunteers preparing a home-cooked hot meal for anyone who comes through the door. The food and the preparation are donated by the parishioners of Christ Church.
The projects that a Pleasant Mount man is involved in come straight from the heart and are guided by the soul.
James Spano was born in New York and raised in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Business was always his passion. From a young teen delivering three newspaper routes to running a flea market stand for years while in high school, he has always been engaged in a business or philanthropic activity.
Spano is a veteran of the Air Force serving from 1976 to 1980 as a military intelligence linguist with expertise in the Russian language and a top secret clearance. He was responsible for gathering data on Russian aircraft and weapons capabilities.
In 1980, Spano joined Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as a sales manager, leaving there to begin his own business. He spent a good part of the next 26 years managing an insurance and financial brokerage firm specializing in employee benefits for businesses. He was responsible for more than 500 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans covering insurance and pension benefits in 13 states with more than $50,000,000 in plan assets.
Philanthropy is his passion and he has performed many charitable acts all over the world. With more than $2 million invested in charitable contributions in the last three years by Spano Partners and an additional $214,000 by the Spano Family Foundation, the list goes on: solar panels in Haiti; a medical center for people with disabilities in Mexico; tractor trailer loads of medical supplies and clothes to Africa; a new group home in his town and a property to house a flower shop for people of that group home to secure a job. There have been donations to the Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, food banks, the Girl and Boy Scouts, the Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, health center foundations, and churches, both locally and in New Jersey.
Ten years ago, Spano moved to NEPA to ‘get away’ from the hustle and bustle of his long career in New Jersey. He settled on a beautiful lot in Pleasant Mount, Wayne County, and simply fell in love with the beauty and serenity of the area. He continues his philanthropy here.
He bought a small building on Main Street in Forest City, as well as 12 properties which he renovated and in the process rehabilitated areas of the town. The Main Street building continues to be used by local charitable groups at no expense, and each year a Christmas tree is decorated by school children. He opens his home to the police and emergency services of the area, hosting an annual Christmas party. He has purchased snow plows for local municipalities, donated to the Clinton Township Historical Society and allows his home to be used for Christian retreats and business.
Spano has also served on numerous boards. He has been a soccer coach in his town and continues as an active soccer player himself. He spends the bulk of his time in New Jersey, but visits his NEPA home two weekends a month.
He has six children: two girls, Elanna and Kimberly, and four boys, Jimmy, Kenny, Josh and George. Kimberly has cerebral palsy and is quadriplegic and nonverbal. She has been an inspiration to the family, having “taught us how to truly love and be loved for who we are,” he said.
Sometimes it takes a life changing event to realize what important work someone has done in their life, right under your nose. This just recently happened to this writer when my father-in-law, Thomas Butler, formerly of Lenox, Susquehanna County, died from a massive heart attack at his home on Oct. 7, 2016.
As his family, we knew him as a great-grandfather, grandfather, father and husband. But we never knew about the many lives he had touched.
Tom wore a smile on his face that seemed to go to his heart. He didn’t just wear it, he felt it and he spent his life helping others. He played piano and organ at local nursing homes and personal care centers as well as at churches, weddings and people’s homes. A year that went by without his call and piano playing of happy birthday was not really a birthday at all for his family and friends.
Person after person told the story of how Tom, the white-haired smiling man, was so kind to their mother/father, aunt, etc. when they were in the nursing home. His signature horn blast and wave at passers-by was told by many who visited the night of his viewing and the next day at his funeral, “I knew it was Tom and I smiled when I heard the beep.” The pastor at his funeral used one word to sum up Tom: hope — he provided hope in a world of hopelessness for many.