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CHRISTMAS SPIRIT GLOWS AMID W. SIDE POVERTY

They share life in poverty's basement, eat at a soup kitchen and wear hand-me-downs. But when it comes to their Christmas wish lists, they might have been written by youngsters in Amherst's Chapel Wood, Boston's Beacon Hill or any other fashionable address in the nation.

That's what emerges from a sneak peek into Santa Claus' mailbag at the Helping Hands of Greater Buffalo soup kitchen and food pantry, 382 Massachusetts Ave., the principal provider of Christmas comfort for nearly 800 low-income families on the city's West Side.

"It's a meat-and-potatoes list," said Sonny Miano, director of Helping Hands. "It's toys, togs and turkey. And, of course, Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles."

The Santa letter forms have been in the dining room since Thanksgiving, and are used by both children and parents to make known their wants and help break the tedium for those who have to eat out every day.

If prizes were awarded for artistic quality, one would surely be awarded to Jennylynn Smith, age unknown, who traced a tiny hand to underscore her family's wish for a "helping hand."

"My children asked for a daddy for Christmas," a mother of four children wrote, "but I cannot give them one. Toys will have to do."

"Some canned food will do," wrote a Perry Boulevard man who will spend Christmas alone.

Some requests were simple and very specific.

"I only need things to make cookies, like Crisco, raisins and nuts," said one. "Thanks for a lovely lunch at noon with lovely people."

"Peas, butter, carrots, sugar and milk," one wrote.

Sylvia Riviera wrote that "I have 3 girls. They are pretty girls. I love my children so much. I need some food, and my girls want some toys."

Wrote 16-year-old Wanda Elliott: "All I want for Christmas is my family to be happy on Christmas and for the New Year." She added a teen-ager's understandable plea for "new clothes for myself."

"Christmas decorations and a tree for next year," asked a letter from a Fourth Street family.

A father of two girls, one 7 and the other 6, requested toys for them with the painful observation that "Christmas is not looking good at all this year."

"A football and dolls," wrote a Massachusetts Avenue boy who had evidently included his sister's wish with his own.

"I wish for peace and happiness and for anything that you will be willing to give me," said Antonia Santos. "This year has been just as hard as every other year during Christmas time, but we always try to manage with what we get."

Although food and toys are in shorter supply this year than in the past, Miano says, the Christmas wishes of about 55 fathers and mothers and their children who wrote to Santa for help will be met this year through the Helping Hands adopt-a-family program.

Under the plan, the food pantry provided names of poor families, their wish lists and their clothing sizes to organizations and individuals who want to "adopt" them.

Depending on donations, Helping Hands expects to provide nearly 750 grocery baskets next week and serve sit-down turkey dinners Wednesday and Thursday.

Its Yuletide festivities begin this Sunday with dinner and toy distribution to children from the Erie County Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

That's a heap of giving. Miano acknowledges that his reach may have exceeded his grasp, so anyone else interested in helping him is encouraged to call 881-1088.

"Right now," he said, "it doesn't look as though everybody will get what they want for Christmas, but we sure can give it our best shot."

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