During the Christmas holidays, the public safety headquarters in the basement of a Canisius College dorm doubles as a 24-hour gift-collection headquarters where donated dolls, basketballs, blankets and televisions accumulate in the briefing room until there’s little space left for officers.
“As this pile gets bigger, we almost get squeezed right out,” said Gary Everett, director of public safety.
In the dozen years since he started the Christmas collections in his department, students, faculty and staff have joined in to help give away new toys, college sweatshirts and even abandoned bicycles found languishing in the “lost and found.”
“It started out with a small idea,” Everett said. “It just grew and grew … Everybody gets into the spirit.”
This year the gift giving unfolded in three parts at the Ladies of Charity thrift store and central office on Broadway, just a few blocks past the Broadway Market.
The first was about a week ago, when students, including the women’s volleyball team, helped Everett pack up the bounty that had accumulated in the basement of Bosch Hall.
A few days later, he and the dean were back delivering $500 raised from a “midnight” breakfast held for students studying late. “They could have given that to any charity,” Everett said. “We’re honored that they gave it to us.”
The idea that led to a third trip and another donation from the college community was inspired during that second stop.
Everett stood in the basement by the racks of coats that were nearly empty. A family was there, waiting to pick some out. Everett and Terri Mangione, the dean of students, decided to call on the Canisius network again and find more coats. It was a Friday.
There was a holiday “breakfast with Santa” the next day for faculty and staff. Annie Dobies, the assistant dean of students, sent out an email to everyone, asking them to bring along “nearly new” coats.
By that Saturday morning, there were about 30 coats, including one that was a little too tight for Dobies’ daughter. By the following Tuesday afternoon, the girl’s pretty grey jacket with pink flowers was among the coats getting pulled out of the boxes at Ladies of Charity.
“It involves so many people,” said Eileen Nowak, director of parish outreach and advocacy for Catholic Charities. She has been impressed by how Canisius’ donations have continued to grow. “It’s really mushroomed from the first time they came.”
At Christmastime, her organization teams up with the Western New York Holiday Partnership, a collaboration of social service agencies – including The News Neediest Fund – that collects and distributes gifts.
Ladies of Charity, a Catholic Charities volunteer program, assembles packages for families and some 3,000 children. They make a point of including gifts for young people as old as 20 so everyone in a family has something to open.
“We decided many years ago that we would always follow that,” said Nowak, who is also director of Ladies of Charity.
For Everett, thinking about all the presents that will be unwrapped is one of the great pleasures of his department’s gift collection.
“No matter where you are at Christmas,” he said, “just think of all these kids opening presents at the same time.”
Everett is still inspired by one Christmas memory. One year when he was making his annual delivery to Ladies of Charity, he overheard a waiting father.
The man had spotted a girl’s bike in a collection of bicycles getting dropped off. He said it would be perfect for his daughter. When someone told him it would be awhile until the bike was ready for someone to take home, he stayed put.
“I’ll never forget that ... He stood there and waited,” said Everett, who has three grown children. “I’m a lucky father, I’ve always been able to buy my kids bikes.”