Buffalo police discovered the need among some local residents on the losing end of the economy was greater than expected, but the Buffalo Sabres and area businesses scored a win in brightening their Christmas.
About 100 needy families, many of their members young children, today will celebrate the holiday with a bounty of gifts and food delivered on Christmas Eve by 10 members of the Sabres and dozens of police officers.
Originally, the Sabres had asked for the names of about 50 families who could use a helping hand. Patrol officers went to work seeking out the poor, and they didn't have to look very hard.
"We came up with almost 100 families, and the Sabres, Target stores, Tops Markets and American Sales were graciously able to accommodate us," said First Deputy Police Commissioner Crystalea Burns Pelletier. "Sabre Rob Ray was the force behind the police force. He arranged for nine other Sabres to help deliver the gifts."
Actually, Ray and fellow Sabres have teamed up with the police for the last four years to ensure the city's indigent are not forgotten at Christmas, according to Pelletier.
And as usual, the joy of giving was its own reward, especially when the faces of youngsters lit up at the sight of professional hockey players entering their homes, arms filled with presents, Pelletier said.
"It's always extraordinary. The children of these families get to meet a Sabre right in their living room even though they may never get to go to a Sabres game," said Pelletier.
In the South District, police officers dug into their own pockets to give a little extra to the poor.
"The officers here went above and beyond what was expected. The district inspector's office literally looked like the South Pole with all the gifts packed into it ready for delivery to families in the area," said Capt. Edward C. Hempling.
Community Police Officer Marie Richardson was credited with organizing the collection of additional gifts and Christmas baskets in the South District.
Pelletier noted that many officers who participate in the delivery of gifts have come to look forward to this assignment.
"It's something they look forward to each year," she said.