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NO SILENT NIGHT, OR DAYS EITHER, AS BIG FAMILY APPROACHES HOLIDAY

There is nothing quiet about the Christmas decorations at the Sitarski house. They almost seem to leap out at those passing by.

A large illuminated Santa Claus hangs over the front window. The front door is covered with intricate spray snow decorations. Someone took the same spray and wrote Merry Christm. . . on the front lawn, running out of spray before getting to the end of the word.

The decorations are appropriate. The Sitarski family -- all 12 of them living in South Buffalo -- gets the prize for the most raucous, ebullient, wildly happy, News Neediest Family of the year, possibly of all time.

Ask a question, and two or three of them answer at a time. Two others laugh at a private joke. A baby might cry. A kitten squeals and crawls out of one of the children's arms. "I only had one sister," said Donald Sitarski, husband of Christine Sitarski for 25 years and father of 12 children, 10 of whom still live there. "I thought it'd be a lot more fun with a lot of kids."

Very slowly, now. Here are the names of the 10 still living, eating, sleeping, horsing around and trying to take care of each other inside the rented house on Ashton:

Jim and Joe, 18-year-old twins, are the oldest still at home. Both are seniors at South Park and played football this fall there. Both want to attend four-year colleges next year. Jim wants to major in science. Joe wants to be a lawyer.

Here are the others: Joy, 16, a junior at South Park; Carrie, 14, in ninth grade at South Park Prep; Christina, 11, in sixth grade at Southside Elementary, Anita, 9, fourth grade at Southside. Then there are Angela, 6; Anthony, 6; Jennifer, 4, and Matthew, 2.

"Oh, it's fun," said Mrs. Sitarski, 44. "They're all so different. There's no two that are the same. They have their fights with each other but then they stick up for each other, too."

"It started with a boy and girl, and then just kept going," said Donald Sitarski, 47.

Inside, the Christmas decorations continue. Mrs. Sitarski already has hung 12 large white Christmas stockings on the family's fireplace, each with the name of a family member. Underneath are four more large stockings with the names of the family's friends. There are 15 or 20 additional stockings on a table with the names of other friends. Mrs. Sitarski hopes to fill each of them with a few pieces of candy.

The shoulders of Donald Sitarski support this family. Sitarski earns under $14,000 a year working as a housekeeper at Our Lady of Victory Hospital. Sitarski also tries to pick up some money cleaning at the Boy's Club on Babcock Street. The family gets food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

"I hand my paycheck over to my wife, and then she pays the bills," Sitarski said.

Sitarski is always ready for some extra hours at the Boy's Club, according to Dave Darlak, unit supervisor at the club, who has known the Sitarskis for years.

"He tries to put in as much work as possible to pick up some extra money," Darlak said. "But it's a struggle just to keep the family together."

The Sitarskis have known even tougher times. They've been through two fires, the first of which started in the apartment below them eight years ago and destroyed almost everything they had.

They have four bedrooms in the house they rent now. It's a big improvement over their last place, an apartment on Seneca Street where they all lived on the third floor. They turned the dining room and a kitchen nook into bedrooms in that apartment. That gave them four bedrooms there.

Are the Sitarskis needy? Do they have enough to buy food, clothes and other necessities for the 10 growing children in the house?

Listen to them -- telling how they eat their meals "in shifts," talking about going to college, laughing about how there are no dull moments in the Sitarski house. Think of what it's like to raise three or four children. The answer seems clear.

And even though Christmas is a difficult time for them, Donald and Christine Sitarski said the holiday is one of the times that makes them thankful they have such a big family.

"This house is never silent," Mrs. Sitarski said.

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