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The Buffalo News Neediest Fund is making a list and will be checking it twice to ensure that everyone in Erie County's family -- big or small, old or young -- will have a merry Christmas.

If the ever-growing lines at the area's soup kitchens are any indication of the number of families or individuals whose incomes do not make it to the end of each month, The News Neediest Fund's list could very well be one of the longest since the drive began 14 years ago.

The Neediest Fund is accepting applications from those beleaguered families or individuals who may be facing a less than merry Christmas.

Applications will be accepted through Nov. 27.

All details regarding the application process are available by calling the Central Referral Agency.

The phone number is 851-5555.

Douglas W. Frank, executive director of Central Referral, urged that the call be made to save the applicant time and to ensure that all the information needed is obtained.

Additionally, names will be entered into the computer to ensure that no family is assisted by more than one agency.

"We started this five years ago," Frank explained, "after discovering that families were applying to more than one agency and receiving food and gifts from more than one agency. As a result, by the time Christmas arrived there was not enough to go around."

Frank said many agencies, in addition to The News Neediest Fund, are submitting names to Central Referral.

They include the Salvation Army, City Mission, Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers and many service organizations, such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.

"When we began this system," Frank said, "there were up to 30 percent of the applicants on more than one list. We are whittling that down more and more each year."

Central Referral will direct applicants to the nearest food pantry, where they can fill out an application. The agency will also tell the caller what days and what hours the pantry will be open for application information. Financial eligibility guidelines call for maximum gross monthly incomes of $810 for households of one; $1,087 for two; $1,364 for three; $1,642 for four; $1,919 for five; $2,196 for six; $2,474 for seven; $2,751 for eight; and $278 more for each additional person.

Those submitting an application must provide a photo of the applicant plus proof of residence and total income for the past 30 days. They also must provide identification for all children covered by the application and Social Security numbers for all members of the household.

Those who are eligible will receive a referral letter in the mail in mid-December. The letter will advise the recipient where and when to go to receive food for the family holiday dinner and toys for all children 12 or younger from the Neediest Fund.

To make all this happen, The News Neediest Fund also is asking for help.

Companies, groups and organizations that want to support the fund by helping to collect food and toys are asked to call Margaret Usedom at 887-2649.

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