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WNYERS DELIVER AS SPECIAL APPEAL REAPS TOY BONANZA FOR YOUNGSTERS

Western New Yorkers have come through once again, says Michael Szymanski, acting director of the Friends of the Night People homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

The generosity his organization has come to know first-hand arrived in the form of thousands of toys donated to The News Neediest Fund in response to a special plea for help Friday.

At that point in the annual drive, only 1,200 toys were under the tree, although the names on a list of needy children amounted to almost 20,000.

"The response has been simply overwhelming," Michelle Magaris, who directs the Neediest Fund drive, said Tuesday as the toys started moving out to distribution depots. "Another 3,000 or so should allow us to not only take care of all the children on our lists, but to answer pleas for help from rural areas outside of our target area as well as many group homes for young people that were not on our list."

Most of the toys will go to individual little girls and boys. But one special gift was made for dozens of children -- boys and girls -- to enjoy. And it was made with loving care by a lady who never had children of her own.

Greta Ruf, a retired Metro Bus driver, spent more than two months stitching hour after hour to create the super Barbie dollhouse -- just for The Neediest Fund.

"Every year, I would buy something for the fund," she said, "but this year, I decided I wanted to make something special."

The dollhouse is completely furnished -- down to a miniature telephone and "food" on the dining room table. It also has a tennis court, patio, outdoor Jacuzzi and separate recreation room with all of the accoutrements.

Stitched with soft yarn on a sturdy plastic backing, it is strong enough to withstand dozens of rearrangements by little hands.

The doll house will go to the Ronald McDonald House, Ms. Magaris said.

Mrs. Ruf plans to make something again next year.

"Bringing a homemade toy is something a lot of people can do," she said. "It could be a project for a club, even for some schools. The best part is giving to families who are going through extremely hard times. I grew up during the big Depression, and I remember how tough it can get."

Mrs. Ruf brought her gift to The Buffalo News in a friend's small pickup.

Large trucks and vans were needed for many of the other deliveries.

Marine Midland Bank planned to make one big delivery Friday. But so many toys were placed under their 15-foot living tree that three truckloads, or more than 1,000 toys, already have been delivered to The News lobby.

The remainder of the toys, which still are being placed under Marine's tree, will be presented to The Neediest Fund by Santa Claus during ceremonies at 12:15 p.m. Friday in the bank in Marine Midland Center. The public is invited to join the festivities.

For 1,000 children, Santa will drop off "Whopper Meal" gift certificates from Western New York Burger King managers, who also personally donated two truckloads of food and toys.

Dozens of children will hug Teddy Bears sent by Trico Products and Buffalo Wholesale Florist Supply.

Children gave to children. Entire classes from Buffalo Public Schools as well as elementary schools in Kenmore and West Seneca and even nursery schools gave toys and food to the cause.

For the first time, the Niagara Frontier Builders Association decided to join in. Its 400 members donated 400 turkeys.

Once more, Western New York's generosity is enabling The News Neediest Fund to help their less fortunate neighbors have a merry Christmas.

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