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Variety Club officials admit that next weekend's telethon has presented them with a huge challenge -- trying to convince potential donors that telethon dollars will go to help children, even while the future of Children's Hospital remains in limbo.

"There's no question that there's an underlying current in the community that money donated to the telethon isn't being utilized at Children's until a decision is made on the status of the hospital," said Richard A. Goldstein, Variety Club executive director. "That's totally incorrect."

Proceeds from next weekend's telethon, including Tuesday's Buffalo News Kids Day edition, once again will be split roughly in an 80-20 ratio, with 80 percent going to Children's Hospital and its Robert Warner Rehabilitation Center, and the other 20 percent going to about 15 not-for-profit agencies that benefit children.

"Variety Club's position is that we are here to help sick, handicapped and underprivileged children now, today," Goldstein said. "What happens down the road we'll review as circumstances merit. But we are fulfilling our mission: to help with the most critical needs facing children today."

A panel formed by Kaleida Health recommended last year that the health system abandon its 108-year-old Bryant Street facility and build a new Children's Hospital on High Street. Whether that will happen -- and, if so, when -- remains unclear.

In advance fund-raising efforts, Variety Club officials have been bombarded with questions about whether the telethon proceeds would be held up or even used to fund relocation of the hospital.

"Various donors have asked for clarification," Goldstein said. "We had to assure them that indeed the money continues to help kids right now."

To make their point, Variety Club officials released a detailed list of the proceeds from last year's telethon.

Those figures show that about $880,000 of the roughly $1.1 million in proceeds went to about a dozen programs or departments at Children's Hospital and the Robert Warner Rehabilitation Center.

They included $455,000 for renovations in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, $311,000 for the Rehabilitation Center, $36,000 for the Variety Club Camping Program for children, $30,000 for the 10th-floor Ambulatory Room for older children, $11,000 for the juvenile diabetes department and $10,000 for the Garden of Hope.

The remaining 20 percent, or slightly less than $220,000, went to agencies outside Children's Hospital. Leading recipients were Cradle Beach Camp, $51,000; St. Mary's School for the Deaf, $26,000; the Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped, $26,000; Bornhava Preschool, $26,000; Children's Growth Foundation, $25,000; Sunshine Coaches (passenger vans) for several agencies, $20,800; and the Dominik Hasek Youth Hockey League, $14,900.

The telethon will air from 10 p.m. next Saturday to 7 p.m. the following day on WKBW-TV, Channel 7. Special Kids Day editions of The Buffalo News will sell for $1 apiece Tuesday.

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