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TOYS CONSTITUTE BIGGEST CHALLENGE

More than anything else this year, The News Neediest Fund needs toys.

How many toys?

"We're talking 25,000 toys," said Michele Magaris, coordinator of the drive. "We try to give every single child we help a toy."

And who are the children who receive these toys?

Each year the fund supports 50 holiday parties, each for 85 to 500 Western New York children. Last year, 9,000 toys found their way into disadvantaged youngsters' hands at these parties, thanks to News Neediest donors.

About 2,000 families write The News each year asking for help during the holiday season. These families average five children each, according to Ms. Magaris. That's an additional 10,000 toys needed.

Add to that the special assistance given to families whose stories are told daily in the pages of The News between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25, and a 25,000-toy target for 1990 doesn't look so outrageous.

In fact, more toys may be needed, because more Western New York families are asking for help from the fund this year.

Businesses and civic groups use incredible creativity and ingenuity to help The Neediest Fund make the holidays a bit brighter for children and families in need. Most come and go anonymously when they leave their gifts, never asking to be recognized.

They crowd into The News lobby with bundles and barrels of toys, new clothes and non-perishable food, and receive no other reward than a warm feeling of helping.

At Columbus McKinnon Corp. in the City of Tonawanda, the ticket to get into the company Christmas party this year will be a new toy for The News Neediest Fund.

In the foyer of the Eagle House Restaurant in Williamsville sits a gingerbread house, lovingly baked and decorated by Audrey Dalher, the owners' mother. It will be raffled before Christmas, and the proceeds will go to help The News Neediest Fund.

Folks at Derrick Manufacturing in Cheektowaga save up and shop for The News Neediest Fund all year long. Derrick's employees have contributed several hundred toys to the fund each year for the past seven years.

Postal worker Larry Zgoda hand-carved a children's rocking horse. His co-workers are buying $1 chances to win the horse, with all the money collected going to help children and families assisted by the Neediest Fund.

And the Kiwanis Clubs of Buffalo -- which donate hundreds of toys -- are pivotal to the annual drive.

But even smaller organizations can help.

Cheerleaders at Williamsville East want to buy toys and food for Neediest families.

Residents of the Beechwood and Blocher nursing homes are collecting food and toys.

Phyllis Refermat, operator of a craft booth at the Market on Main, read about a News Neediest family and set up a space where fellow merchants can donate toys to the fund.

Teachers in Elmwood Franklin's upper school instructed pupils not to buy them gifts this year, but instead to purchase a toy for the Neediest Fund.

Every little bit helps.

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