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It's a need that never goes away, but one that becomes especially poignant as Christmas approaches. The poor, who are always with us, can no more manage a bountiful holiday than they can a Caribbean cruise. The neatly wrapped gifts that characterize the secular aspects of this season are, for many Western New Yorkers, simply beyond reach.

These are our relatives, friends and neighbors, and if their children are to have presents to open on Christmas morning, those of us who can should help. It is a joyful task that many take on at this time of year and one in which this newspaper is proud to join through the News Neediest Fund.

This is the 23rd year The Buffalo News has offered this program, designed to provide meals for families and gifts for children. The need is great. This region is home to one of the nation's poorest cities. Without the generosity that flourishes here, many a household would waken to a glum Christmas.

Here are some details: The program is open only to those truly in need. Those who want to apply have until Dec. 3 -- a week from today -- to do so. They should call Central Referral Services at 851-5555 for more information.

Those who want to give money to be used for ham dinners should send their donations to The News Neediest Fund, Station C Post Office, 1245 Main St., P.O. Box 444, Buffalo, NY 14209-0444.

Those who want to provide gifts can drop off new, unwrapped items at all Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties, The Buffalo News lobby at Washington and Scott streets, and Buffalo News satellite offices at 1000 Young St. Suite 320, Tonawanda; 5599 Camp Road, Hamburg; 5091 Broadway, Depew; 8353 Niagara Falls Blvd. at Military Road, Niagara Falls; and in the City of Buffalo, 100 Dingens St. and 1125 Niagara St.

Toys are good for young children, but don't forget older children and teens who would like gifts such as sport equipment, board games, music CDs, jewelry, hair accessories and movie passes.

We hope you will give generously. The payoff will be Christmas-day smiles that otherwise wouldn't be there. Guaranteed.

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