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When City Judge Jeanette Ogden was invited to spread some holiday cheer by "adopting" a family living in one of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's 10 projects, she didn't need any coaxing.

She also didn't need any directions.

"It had to be the Perry project," Ogden said, "because that was where I grew up."

Ogden is one of the people who took the challenge from the authority this year to "be an angel" during the holiday season by helping one of the 200 working-poor families living in the housing projects to take the first steps from welfare to independence.

The program began five years ago when authority administrators looked for a way to encourage families to stay off welfare, according to Executive Director Sharon West.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol E. Heckman is doing her share for the second consecutive year.

"There are two things I especially like about the program," Heckman said. "First, it is much more personal than just giving a check to charity to buy food and gifts for the family. And secondly, it has given my children the experience that giving is more important than receiving."

Heckman said last year her 14- and 15-year-old sons, Tyler and Ethan Levin, helped purchase the gifts for the family, and then the boys went with their mother to meet the family.

"They had never been into the projects to see for themselves what struggles the people there have," Heckman said. "But at the same time, they had a very pleasant experience meeting the parents and the children, and I know they are looking forward to doing it again this year."

Some of the angels come in groups, such as Career Women Phase II, an organization of 14 professional women. Vanita Evans, communications outreach coordinator for the FBI office in Buffalo and president of the group, heard about the program in a letter and decided it was a perfect fit for her group.

Each member made a cash contribution. The committee then went shopping for a single mother with three children and will personally deliver everything to the family Thursday, Evans said.

"I have never been into the projects. Most of us have not, so it will be a great experience for us," Evans said.

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