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Local senior collects $181 for ALS. Gets mistaken for scammer

Lynda Belsito isn't a con artist. She's a wonderful lady who helped the Sault Ste. Marie Walk for ALS raise $21,800 to fight the disease that took away her husband Walter five years ago.

Lynda Belsito hates asking people for money.

So last week, she waited until the last minute to canvass her neighbours to sponsor her in Saturday's Sault Ste. Marie Walk for ALS.

The spry senior went door-to-door in the northeast part of the city on Friday, collecting $131.

Adding $50 of her own, that made a tidy $181 to help fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease that took the life of her husband Walter five years ago.

What Lynda didn't know was that earlier last week, the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service had issued a warning about people going door-to-door collecting for ALS.

"We believe this activity to be fraudulent," the police said in a news release published on SooToday. "The ALS Society has been contacted and advises that they are not currently soliciting donations in Sault Ste. Marie, nor do they solicit door to door."

Well, Lynda has been a loyal supporter of the ALS Society of Canada for the past decade.

She was used to canvassing her neighbourhood, where most people know her.

But this time, she found herself being chased down by a rather angry lady.

"Her husband had given me $20," Lynda tells SooToday. "She had just read on SooToday that there was someone scamming for ALS."

"She went to my house. I had told her husband where I live. I had told him that my feet were tired so I was going home. She handed me her phone and had me call the police."

Eventually, it all got sorted out.

Lynda had an ALS sponsorship form, and her neighbour vouched for her.

On Sunday, the woman saw her again and apologized.

But Lynda was rattled by the experience.

"What I did wasn't unusual," she says.

"I thought that was what we were supposed to do. I knew some of the people on my own street, but a number of them I didn't know at all."

"I really felt bad. I don't want them to think that they gave me their change and I was scamming them."

So for the record, Lynda Belsito isn't a con artist.

She's just one of many participants who helped make this year's Sault Ste. Marie Walk for ALS a stunning success, notwithstanding the scammers.

The event raised $21,800, far above this year's goal of $15,000.

Lynda is well known to local ALS volunteers.

Her husband Walter was sick with ALS for a decade.

He taught French at Dacey Public School in the Sault, and Grade 8 in Blind River and on St. Joseph Island.

Walter learned he had ALS shortly after being named principal at Thessalon Public School.

"In all honesty, she was doing the right thing, reaching out to the right people," Brigitte Labby, ALS Canada regional manager for northeastern Ontario, told SooToday.

"Not everybody has friends and family and workers to reach out to," Labby said. "People do it all the time [canvass door-to-door] for other charities."

Mayor Christian Provenzano attended the walk kick-off on Saturday.

So did Sault MP Terry Sheehan and his Algoma- Manitoulin NDP counterpart Michael Mantha.

This year's walk would not have been nearly the success it was without the extraordinary contribution of Eddy K. Lefrançois, who came from Dubreuilville with a squadron of ALS-fighters from places like Dubreuilville, Wawa, Chapleau, Elliot Lake, Sudbury and the Sault.

Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Charcot's disease and motor neuron disease, ALS attacks cells in the brain and spinal cord that normally keep muscles moving.

Early signs and symptoms include:

  • muscle cramps and twitching
  • weakness in hands, legs, ankles or feet
  • difficulty swallowing and/or speaking

Lefrançois is a member of ALS Canada's ambassador program.

He first experienced weakness in his left hand in 1990, when he was 21.

He was diagnosed with ALS on April 14, 1992, just one month shy of his 23rd birthday.

His life expectancy was supposed to be five years, until April, 1997.

Almost two decades later, Lefrançois lives an extraordinary life.

He's visited the Italian Alps, Las Vegas, New York City, West Edmonton Mall and attended a World Junior Hockey gold medal game and the Stanley Cup finals.

Still on his bucket list are meetings with:

  • Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge
  • Professor Stephen Hawking
  • Oprah
  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Anderson Cooper
  • Adèle
  • Keira Knightley
  • Katie Holmes
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Marisa Tomei
  • Hilary Swank
  • Julie Gonzalo
  • Stacey Dooley
  • Jaimie Alexander
  • Tom Hanks

"I'm paying a high price and want people to know that I feel like I am being buried alive," Lefrançois told SooToday.

"That is why it's important ALS be treatable, not terminal. I wish I would have been the last person diagnosed with ALS so nobody has to live through this."

Visit Eddy's website

View a video about his life with ALS.

Make a donation to help fight ALS.





David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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