With the flick of a switch, Buffalo News Publisher Warren Colville brought the glistening 12-foot Christmas tree in the newspaper’s downtown lobby to life Thursday – and the ceremonial start of the 32nd annual News Neediest Fund.
Glittery balls wrapped in red fabric, acorns, gold stars, snowflakes and a garland of magnolias were among the ornaments sharing space with baby’s breath, giving a natural accent to the artificial tree.
But what was under the tree is likely to hold even more excitement for children: the first stuffed animals, dolls, baby toys and action figures that will eventually find their way under a tree in a needy family’s home.
Already, $68,475 in donations has poured in – mostly from individuals who have given from $5 to $4,000 – for a program that last year raised $195,580.
The money last year also provided holiday meals for 12,000 families and holiday gifts for about 11,000 children.
“It’s amazing – the community always steps up and does the right thing. It’s an incredible program,” Colville said, as the Houghton Academy choir began to sing “Feliz Navidad.”
“There are two things that I think we stand for, and they are literacy and children. And this is all about doing the right thing for families and children at the holidays, whether it’s food or toys.”
Adell Rivera watched the choir – and her son Sharife Mason Jr., one of the singers – with pride. Rivera said she’s grateful that the News Neediest Fund is able to help so many families and has donated to it in the past.
“I hate to see a kid wanting for anything,” Rivera said.
The News Neediest Fund is part of a larger collaboration, the Western New York Holiday Partnership, that features numerous community organizations. It’s administered by Olmsted Center for Sight.
“This is incredibly important for families. They are struggling to make ends meet, and to be able to provide something for their kids at the holidays is huge,” said Kelly Dodd, Olmsted’s resource manager and fund coordinator.
“There is a lot of need out there. We get a lot of calls just aside from the holidays with people struggling for basic needs. They need rental assistance, they need a security deposit to get into an apartment, food assistance and living-wage jobs.”
Michael Weiner, executive director of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, one of the News Neediest Fund’s partners, praised the combined efforts of groups and individuals who have made such a large undertaking successful.
“We have over 29 organizations in this community that really make this possible, and the most wonderful part is we are making food and toys available to families at risk,” Weiner said.
Adding to the festivities were Neglia Ballet ballerinas Kate Loh, from New York City, and Marie Keil, of Buffalo, who will be dancing in “The Nutcracker” at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, one of the partner organizations, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The Grinch was also in the lobby to add a little good-humored deviousness; “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical” will be at Shea’s for a week beginning Dec. 17.
Garlands festooned with gold bows, topiary trees and two giant wreaths in the lobby also helped usher in the start of the holiday season. Former News employee Vincent Mazurowski each year has adorned the tree and The News lobby.