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Teens spread good cheer School gift drives emphasize helping others their age

Adam Beilman, a senior at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster, believes his school's participation in The News Neediest fund drive will ensure age-appropriate gifts for less fortunate high schoolers.

"It's a fundraiser designed to collect unwrapped gifts for high-school-age kids because we would know what they would want for Christmas," Beilman said.

His belief is right in line with the goal of the annual effort, which has The Buffalo News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership once again teaming up to provide food and toys to more than 12,000 families during the holiday season.

Last year, the drive invited high schools to participate as a way to collect gifts for older children.

Cindy Sterner, The News' promotions and public affairs manager, said most of the gifts collected for the Neediest drive are appropriate for children up to age 12, leaving older children without anything special to receive during the holidays.

But with area high schools getting involved, the older children are less likely to be forgotten.

"The high schools' involvement gets teenagers to think about what other teenagers would want," Sterner said. "They are selecting the gifts, and they know what to get."

Sterner added that high schools usually organize drives that benefit their immediate community, but The News Neediest Fund gives the schools an opportunity to give in a more far-reaching manner.

Eight schools participated last year, and Sterner noticed a spike in the number of sporting goods, books and fragrant bath sets collected for last year's drive.

So far this holiday season, St. Mary's is the only school to confirm its participation in the drive. Lackawanna High School and Leonardo Da Vinci High School are planning to get involved, Sterner said.

Beilman is president of the St. Mary's student senate, which is organizing the effort. About 40 students will work on the drive, which kicked off Monday at the school and ends Dec. 15.

Students placed bins throughout the school to make it convenient for gift drop-offs.

Brendan McDaniels, the school's director of enrollment and supervisor of the fundraiser, said that each year St. Mary's students commit to a couple of charity efforts for the holidays.

"Our kids have the opportunity to give back," McDaniels said.

Sterner said there's a need for more high school participation, adding that both the givers and the receivers benefit.

The students know what it feels like to open their own Christmas or Hanukkah gifts, she said, so they have more sympathy for those who don't have that chance.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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