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Generous Western New Yorkers contributed enough toys, money, clothes and food to help 3,700 poor families this year -- double the number that applied to the News Neediest Fund for assistance in 1989.

In addition, the toys and cash collected by the Neediest Fund paid for a total of 43 Christmas parties for 7,800 children.

"Our pleas for toys were answered -- without a doubt," said Michele Magaris, a United Way employee who coordinated the fund for The News.

"The last week of the drive, they came in as fast as we could pack them," she said.

Approximately $96,500 in cash was collected to help the area's disadvantaged families.Typically, donations will continue to trickle in during the first week of the new year, Ms. Magaris said.

Food donations to the fund this year totaled about 120,000 pounds. Canned goods and other non-perishable items were collected and distributed through Western New York's 68 food pantries, with help from the Food Bank and the Food for All Network.

"The food pantries are the nuts and bolts of the Neediest Fund," Ms. Magaris said. "Their staffs worked their tails off to get the food ready -- sorting and packing and getting it all cataloged by computer."

Private and public organizations, large and small, make the News Neediest Fund a success.

The Niagara Frontier Builders Association gave more than 400 turkeys to poor families this year. And Super Duper donated 400 turkey dinners, including potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Ms. Magaris said an overwhelming number of companies volunteered to install News Neediest collection bins in their buildings or asked their employees to contribute toys to the fund this year.

"At least 138 companies did that," Ms. Magaris said. "That really helped us in terms of making it easier for people to donate."

National Fuel set out bins in all its consumer assistance centers and donated the use of two of the companies' vans to haul the goodies to The News.

Employees of Marine Midland Bank and the U.S. Postal Service gave thousands of toys this year to help make the holidays brighter for poor children. The Erie County clerk's office and the Sheriff's Department were other major donors.

University at Buffalo fraternities and sororities went door to door in that school's dormitories seeking donations of food and toys for the fund.

Even cultural organizations like the Empire State Ballet -- who don't have a lot of spare change of their own -- pitched in to help with their time, talents and gifts.

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