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Care-A-Van Ministries

How Gail Tenney turned a nuisance into help for UMMC workers on the front line

By Jeanne Walton

It didn’t take Gail Tenney long to decide who she wanted to help when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

She works for her family’s businesses, McNickel’s Bottle and Can Redemption and adjoining RJ’s Washroom on Ellicott Street in the City of Batavia.

Given her family’s work at the Redemption Center, and because she knows that for most people “bottles and cans are a nuisance,” an empties drive was the perfect choice for an event to benefit hardworking medical providers at United Memorial Medical Center.

Thus was born "Community Strong with Cans." Tenney visited neighbors on Redfield Parkway, Bogue Avenue and Woodrow Road. They were happy to help!

She collected empties with a $200 redemption value initially, $120 with the next round, and then added $100 from her family. This $420 was used to purchase 55 meals for hospital workers at UMMC.

The meals were from local eatery Commit to Well (inside Eli Fish Brewing Co.) and delivered on April 13; the recipients were more than grateful.

“The ongoing support of our community is such an important piece in our fight against COVID-19," said UMMC President Dan Ireland. "As we all learn how to cope during these extraordinary times and rise to the challenge, our team members are working long hours away from their family—many accomplishing tasks they’ve never done before.

"Our community’s acts of kindness, large or small, keep us going. This outpouring of gratitude reminds us why we’re here, and that the community we care so deeply about, also cares for us. There are not enough words to express our sincere appreciation. We are all so thankful for the heartwarming generosity.”

Now Tenney would like to expand the scope of the project and share the benefits with the people who support their businesses as well, while increasing collection efforts throughout the community.

"Let’s support them, they support us," Tenney said. "…My heart breaks for them" because they are truly the people in need during these difficult times.

Along with the hospital staff, Tenney has selected Care-A-Van Ministries and Community Action of Orleans and Genesee to be recipients in the future.

Paul Ohlson of Care-A-Van said that contributions they receive are distributed according to needs, so it is most helpful to provide them with the funds directly.

Similarly, Lisa Wittmeyer of Community Action is anticipating that any money raised will help in upcoming months when many local residents need to catch up on unpaid rents from the early days of the pandemic.

The Tenney family hopes their efforts will bring a bit of much needed relief to those who need it, without overburdening the people they are asking to contribute. They intend to continue matching funds for money raised.

To donate your empties to "Community Strong with Cans," to arrange a pick up, or to help, please contact Tenney at: or call/text (585) 993-2060.

Visit Tenney’s Blog here.

Top photo, courtesy of UMMC.

Inset photo right, courtesy of Gail Tenney.

Founders of Care-A-Van Ministries selected 2016 Health and Humanitarian Award of Genesee County

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The 32nd annual Health and Humanitarian Award of Genesee County will be presented to Paul and Bridget Ohlson on Friday, Nov. 4, at an awards luncheon at Terry Hills Restaurant. They are the founders of Care-A-Van Ministries, which is now supported by 23 local churches, and partners with a variety of agencies including The Salvation Army, Cornell Extension, GCASA, among others.

The award presented by The Jerome Foundation and United Memorial Medical Center Foundation recognizes volunteer men and women of Genesee County who have helped promote emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of the area’s residents. Nominations reflected “ordinary people who reach far beyond themselves to the lives of those in need, bringing hope, care, and friendship, and helping build a stronger, healthier community.”

In naming the Ohlsons for this year’s award, the Foundations will recognize 16 years Paul and Bridget, along with other devoted volunteers, have ministered to the needy in Batavia. Their outreach program focuses on “seeking out and serving the lost, the less fortunate, and the hurting.”

It all began in May of 2000 when the Ohlsons recognized neighborhoods in Batavia where families had a great need for groceries. Using their van, they would park at various street corners and distribute food. They would rotate to different neighborhoods in the City of Batavia every Saturday morning. The Ohlsons used their vans and bus “to bring food, clothing, compassion, love, hope and prayer to many areas of the city." They have not missed a single Saturday morning in reaching out to those in need.

The Health and Humanitarian Award luncheon is open to the public. Reservations can be made by contacting United Memorial Medical Center Foundation at 344-5300. Seating will be limited so early reservations are encouraged.

Genesee ARC helps stock local food pantries, and the food truck for Care-A-Van Ministries

By Billie Owens


(Photos and information submitted by Claudia Nigro for Genesee ARC.)

As part of the MLK (Martin Luther King Jr.) Service Project, which runs Jan. 18 through September, individuals from Genesee ARC participate in a food drive and have been volunteering to give back to their community.

They work very hard coordinating drop-off locations for donations and to distribute goods to local food pantries throughout Genesee County.

In pictures taken Monday, are individuals assisting Paul Ohlson (with mustache), of Care-A-Van Ministries, with loading the food truck, one of many recipients of donations in support of the MKL Service Project.

Genesee Arc is one of 10 grant recipients for this national effort. The “Healthy Future” initiative is sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service.  The purpose of this ongoing MLK Project is to focus on food insufficiency and healthy eating for our local community.

FoodLink Mobile Food Pantry

By Michele Lawson

Care-A-Van Ministries is partnering with FoodLink of Rochester and Community Action to host a mobile food pantry. The exact food items available are not known, but fresh produce will be available. The Mobile Food Pantry is available to Genesee County residents only. There is no income verification required, but you must be 18 years old to pick up food from the pantry. Please provide your own bags/cart/vehicle to transport items to your home.

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Police respond to juveniles fighting during Care-A-Van event at Austin Park

By Howard B. Owens

A small group of juveniles got into a ruckus this evening at Austin Park during the weekly Care-A-Van Ministries cookout event and Batavia PD was called to respond, said Sgt. Chris Camp.

Camp said normally you want parents who are present to get involved and deal with their children, but tonight the parents got too involved. They started yelling at each other.

Four city units and three county units responded to the call as a result.

Camp said it's unfortunate that 95 to 98 percent of the people who attend the Care-A-Van event never cause a problem, but Thursday night calls to Austin Park are becoming routine, he said.

Care-A-Van Ministries continues tradition of free summertime cookouts at Austin Park on Thursdays

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Care-A-Van Ministries hosts free weekly Community Cookouts at Austin Park every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. during the Summer through Sept. 10 -- rain or shine.

The weather is great, the cookout vehicle is ready, and the grills fired up!

Each meal consists of a choice of hot dog or hamburger, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, pickles, chips, watermelon and a drink. In 2012, during the first summer of cookouts at Austin Park, 4,388 meals were served, in 2013 there were 4,936 meals served, and in 2014 the ministry served 6,426 meals.

The ministry projects to serve 7,000 meals this season as schools will be closed (no free/reduced lunches for children), individuals are still facing economic hardship, and most importantly, many just love to come out and enjoy a warm summer evening of Christian fellowship, music, and a great meal.

Each week, cookouts are highlighted with an inspirational gospel message by a different pastor from a local community church and uplifting music provided by the Care-A-Van Band.

Many organizations have come out on these Thursday nights to share information about their services, their churches, or just to fellowship with those attending the cookouts. These include: the Salvation Army; Fidelis Care; Total Freedom; Cornell Cooperative Extension; Genesee Country Church; Truth Ministries; R2R Ministries; First Baptist Church of Elba; Living Waters Apostolic Ministries; GCASA; Discovery Chapel; Eagle Fountain Fellowship; YMCA; PC Publications; Smoke Free Genesee; Mothers Supporting Children & Families; and the Genesee County Mental Health Association.

Care-A-Van encourages any organization or church that is interested in setting up a table or activity to contact Paul Ohlson at 343-0328 as we welcome those interested in serving their community through the fellowship and love of Jesus Christ. Donations for the ministry can be mailed to:  P.O. Box 1611, Batavia NY 14021.

FoodLink Mobile Food Pantry

By Michele Lawson

Care-A-Van Ministries is partnering with FoodLink of Rochester to host a mobile food pantry. The exact food items available are not known, but fresh produce will be available. The Mobile Food Pantry is available to Genesee County residents only. There is no income verification required, but you must be 18 years old to pick up food from the pantry. Please provide your own bags/cart/vehicle to transport items to your home.

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Neighbors forge friendships on Lewis Avenue

By Julia Ferrini

Sunlight danced on the leaves while music stirred a sighing breeze, time seemed to stop for awhile as neighbors eased into languid conversation and lilting laughter. Lewis Avenue was the gathering place Saturday evening in what was the first block party for this tight-knit community.

As part of the event, a proclamation on behalf of Brooks Hawley and the City of Batavia was presented to both Stephen and Mike Rosenbeck of Lewis Avenue for their ongoing efforts of keeping the neighborhood together.

“Stephen and Mike have provided outstanding public service, selfless acts of charity, compassion and genuine concern for their fellow Batavians,” Hawley said upon presentation of the Good Neighbor Recognition Certificate.

Leanna DiRisio, community organizer with Vibrant Batavia, partnered with Paul and Bridget Ohlson of Care-a-Van Ministries to make the block party a community event.

“Our mission is to bring communities together and open lines of communication,” DiRisio said. 

“We’re building friendships,” Ohlson said. “Some residents may not know each other so this is a way to bridge people together.”

“When we first moved in,” James Bellamy said. “The Ohlsons came over with a cake and introduced themselves. That’s the kind of welcome that brings people together.”

Bellamy moved to Lewis Avenue in May 2009 from Kent County, England. He and his wife, Kathryn (Katie), moved stateside to be closer to Katie’s family, who live in the Batavia area.

“This is the first street party that I’ve been to since I was a kid,” Bellamy said. “My first ever street party was for the (50th anniversary of the) coronation of the Queen.”

There are many services a city has to offer and DiRisio’s job is to inform people of those services to help make the connection for better relations.

While melodies of the band The Old Hippies played in the background, children played in the street and drew pictures with sidewalk chalk as their adult counterparts reacquainted themselves with their neighbors.

“This is our ministry. This is our city,” Ohlson said.

Care-A-Van Ministries Free Community Cookouts

By Michele Lawson

Care-A-Van Ministries has been holding a free community cookout every Thursday night at Austin Park since mid-May and the response by the community has been tremendous. On average, the ministry serves between 350 – 450 meals per event to local community members, seniors from Washington Towers, and families who are enjoying the spray park.

But the event is not only about the food! It is about sharing the love of Jesus Christ with those in the community through uplifting music from the all-volunteer Care-A-Van worship team, inspirational words of encouragement from Pastors from various churches and denominations in our local community, and the commitment of local organizations such as the Salvation Army, Total Freedom, Truth Ministries, Living Waters Apostolic Ministries, P.C. Publications, Fidelis Care, GCASA, Mothers Supporting Children and Families, and many others in joining together to meet the needs of their community members.

Ride to Recovery, an organization devoted to reaching youth in need through biking events and activities, provides free bike repairs on Thursday nights. A favorite with the kids is the YMCA and Eagle Fountain Fellowship’s Care-A-Van kids which provides a bounce house, children’s messages, and activities during the evenings activities. Volunteers provide face painting, caricature drawings, and many other activities for the children in attendance.

Anthony “Smokie” LoCastro has brought a large donation of rain boots to the park which has provided free footwear for several hundred individuals within our community.

Most importantly, Care-A-Van wishes to thank all their committed, consistent, and faithful volunteers, because without them we couldn’t put on these cookouts week after week.

We encourage any organization, church, or agency to come out on Thursday night and join in this exciting outreach to our community members.

For more information you can contact Paul Ohlson at 343-0328, see us on Facebook, visit our website at, or email us at

Mobile food pantry at Batavia Assembly of God - for GC residents, no income requirements

By Billie Owens

Care-A-Van Ministries is partnering with FoodLink of Rochester to host a mobile food pantry. It will be at the Batavia Assembly of God Church from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1. The church is located at 24 N. Spruce St.

The exact food items available are not known, but fresh produce will be available. Several local agencies will also be partnering with Care-A-Van Ministries and FoodLink to provide information about their services.

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Caring For The City Day To Include Free Dental Clinic

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van Ministries along with Dr. Russ Marchese and his office staff will be hosting the 5th annual Caring For The City Day. This annual event is being held this Friday, July 26th from 8 AM until 3 PM.  It is being held at Dr. Russ Marchese office at 401 East Main Street, Batavia. 

This annual event includes a free dental clinic. The dental clinic is for those people who do not have dental insurance. Each person in need of dental care will  be evaluated for their individual need. There will be free cleanings, fillings, and even extractions performed. 

Along with the free dental clinic, there will be many other services and information offered by local churches and agencies. Free haircuts will be offered by local beauticians. There will be a prayer table set up for those in need of prayer. Batavia Photo club will be on hand to offer free family portraits. Kids will enjoy the face painting and games that will be available.  P. C.  Publications will be giving away free books. Community Action, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Mental Health Association, GCASA, Smoke Free Now Program, will be on site as well. 

Salvation Army, Discovery Chapel, Living Waters Apostolic Ministries who all currently work side by side with Care-A-Van will be their to offer their services and support. Fidelis Care will be available to assist people in need of health care insurance. 

The event is held rain or shine! This event is to let the people of Batavia know that God cares and so do we! Please let your family and friends know about the event. 

Care-A-Van Ministries holds kickoff of Weekly Free Summer Picnics

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van has begun their weekly summer cookouts at Austin Park. This past Thursday, they served 415 free dinners to the community. Each week there is a different guest Pastor giving a short message, music by the Care-A-Van band, free dinner, local churches and agencies offering their services and much more.  Dinner is served every Thursday beginning at 6:00 PM. All are welcome. This weekly event is a great way to bring the community together to share in an awesome time of fun, food and fellowship.  Ride to Recovery is on site every week fixing kids bikes for free. Truth Ministries participates by handing out free flip flops to children and their parents. The Salvation Amy as well as local churches are on hand to meet with folks and pray with them.   Care-A-Van encourages other local agencies and churches to come out and particpate in these weekly outings. Care-A-Van can be reached at 585-343-0328.


Free Community Easter Celebration Dinner

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van Ministries will be hosting  their 13th Annual Free Easter Celebration  Dinner.  The dinner is being served on Easter Sunday, March 31st from 2:00 to 4:00. It is being held at the Batavia Assembly of God Church on 24 North Spruce Street.

Please call 585-343-0328 for reservations.

Also rides are being provided for the 10:30 AM  service where we will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All are welcome to join us!




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Free Dental Clinic at Caring for the City Day

By Robin Walters

In an economy where many people are losing their jobs or their benefits are being cut, many individuals or families find themselves without dental insurance.

On Friday, July 27th, Dr. Russ Marchese Jr and Dr. Marcela Morales-Ross and their staff will be offering a free dental clinic at their office which is located at 401 East Main Street, Batavia.  They will be providing free cleanings, fillings and extractions for anyone who does not have dental insurance. The clinic will run  from 8 Am to 3 PM.

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Photos: Community Picnic Austin Park

By Robin Walters

Every Thursday evening until September 20th, Care-A-Van Ministries is hosting a free cookout picnic for the community at Austin Park.  This past Thursday 305 folks were served dinner. Local churches and agencies are encouraged to participate. One of the churches to participate this past week was the Batavia First United Methodist church and they hosted a mini game carnival for the children which included the children receiving tickets which they could turn in for prizes.  Salvation Army gave away free shoes to the families. Local pastors are participating with giiving short messages as well as the Care-A-Van Band who provides delightful music for the crowd. Be sure to stop by from 5:00-7:00 PM any Thursday.


The volunteers  of Batavia First United Methodist church

Children enjoying the water park

Chris Koneski volunteer from First United Methodist Church

Children turning their free tickets in for prizes

This little fellow earned lots of free tickets playing the games

Major Bob and Stephan from Salavation Army fitted families with shoes

Care-A-Van band members

The public is encouraged to particpate , here is Clarence with his harmonica

Those Care-Van burgers are yummy!

Community Picnic A Huge Success

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van Ministries hosted their weekly cookout at Austin Park this evening. . Over 170 people were served a delicious picnic dinner, got to hear a great message by Pastor Dave Bombela, listened to the Care-A-Van band and enjoyed a night of being with friends.  The spring night was topped off with the serving of refreshing ice cream cones. The Seventh day church was on hand with a prayer table and popscicles for the little ones. Genesee Country church had a table set up to do crafts with the kids.

The FREE picnics are being held every Thursday evening at Austin Park from now until mid September.  Dinner is served at 6:00 PM. All agencies and churches are invited to come out and set up a table promoting the services you provide for the community. You can reach Paul Ohlson at 585-343-0328 if you are interested in joining us on these fun evenings for the community of Batavia. 

Team of volunteers pray after a busy night at the Park.

Free community picnic in Austin Park

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van will be hosting their weekly free cookout at Austin Park, Thursday evening. There will be delicious food, great music, a great message by a local pastor and fun fellowship for all.

Dinner will be served beginning at 6 p.m.

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Strawberries On The Streets

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van Ministries took advantage of the nice weather to host a free strawberrry shortcake dessert night  on Main Street Thursday evening.  Many folks stopped by and enjoyed the delicious treat.

Beginning Thursday, May 17th, Care-A-Van will be hosting a free Community picnic in Austin Park every Thursday evening beginning at 6:00 PM. There will be lots of great food, a message by local pastors,prayer and music by the Care-A-Van band.  All are welcome to join in the fun!




Free Community Easter Dinner

By Robin Walters

Care-A-Van Ministries will be holding their Annual Free Community Easter Dinner. It will be held Easter Sunday, April. 8th from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM.  It is being held at the Assembly of God Church on 24 North Spruce Street.

All are welcome. Reservations are appreciated but not necessary. Call 585-343-0328.



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