Dominic Bochicchio wanted to do a project for his Eagle Scout badge that was different. "Something bigger," he said.
"I saw everyone else just did [projects] helping a single person," said Bochicchio, a junior at Holland High School. "I thought I would do something to help more people."
That's how this Boy Scout came up with the idea of putting together his high school's jazz band to play a benefit concert at McKinley Mall to benefit Toys for Tots, the major toy collector for the Western New York Holiday Partnership.
The Partnership and The Buffalo News Neediest Fund have teamed up to respond to the needs of Western New Yorkers during the holiday season by asking people to donate new, unwrapped toys or cash to the fund.
As a member of the Holland High School Band, Bochicchio already had the resources to make his idea happen. Last Sunday at McKinley Mall for about an hour and a half, a 20-member band played music while the Boy Scouts of Troop 507 encouraged shoppers to donate new, unwrapped toys or cash.
His effort paid off. "They got five extra bags of toys," said Bochicchio, a baritone player. "Apparently, [Toys for Tots] got more toys than money. Usually, they get more money than toys."
Bochicchio and Toys for Tots are just some of the many people and organizations trying to help The News Neediest and the Holiday Partnership make the holidays happy for people in need in Erie and Niagara counties.
However, local agencies report that they urgently need toys and gifts for boys ages 7 to 12. "We have an immediate need; we are in such bad shape with gifts and toys for boys that age. I don't know if I've ever seen such disparity," said Michele Magaris, United Way project manager for The News Neediest Fund.
"Of the gifts that have been donated, 75 percent are for girls, and the agencies that distribute the toys said they are overwhelmed this year [with requests from] families with boys." Gift ideas include athletic and sporting equipment, hand-held electronic games and CDs.
The News Neediest is a little behind on cash donations, too, Magaris reported. "Cash is coming in to buy the holiday dinners that are distributed through the food pantries," she said. "Western New Yorkers are so incredibly generous, but we're running about $7,000 behind last year at this point."
In addition to Bochicchio, others in the Western New York community have pitched in with creative ways to help the drive.
Earlier this month, the Buffalo Stars and NOCO collected new, unwrapped toys during a doubleheader between the Stars and the Buffalo Junior Sabres.
The Police Benevolent Association adopted a family with five children, ages 2 to 17, for Christmas. The PBA gave WNY AmeriCorps staff a donation for the family, which was used to purchase gifts, including a television, clothing, toys and a gift certificate to Wegmans.
The South Buffalo Moose, together with the West Woodside Block Club, collected toys on their own to contribute to The News Neediest Fund. It was the first time the two organizations worked on this project together, said George Lorenz, a member of the Moose Club and vice president of the block club.
During the weeks-long drive, the Moose Club asked bingo players to bring in toys, and it donated $100 in new toys. The block club donated about $30 worth of toys. And they're asking other Moose Clubs in Western New York to donate $100 in cash or new toys to help out. "That would be nice," Lorenz said. "Our drive was not as good as we had hoped, but a lot of people are donated-out with everything that has gone on this year," said Lorenz referring to Hurricane Katrina and other global disasters.
Magaris also pointed out that the need for donations "is great now." Many in the community may be waiting to donate closer to Christmas Day, but the gifts are distributed to families earlier than that, she said.
"Some [Holiday Partnership] organizations, like the Salvation Army, have already started distributing gifts. We don't have until Christmas Eve; the distribution begins now."