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Santa bags a big haul of gift toys Christmas spirit of KB store customers in Falls helps keep Salvation Army busy

Santa Claus, cleverly disguised as Major David Cedervall of the Salvation Army, carted away three large bags of toys from the KB Toy store in the Fashion Outlets mall this week.

In the days before Christmas, more than $5,000 worth of toys will be be distributed to the children of 500 needy families in the city.

Customers of KB Toys have been donating money to buy the toys since July, said Lisa Gordon, the store manager.

Cedervall, his wife, Major Rose, and Wendy Pantano, the Salvation Army's administrative assistant, picked out the toys Thursday from a wish list given to them by the parents of needy children.

"These toys will mean so much to the children," Cedervall said. "We are very grateful."

The toy drive is part of The Buffalo News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership, which have teamed up to provide food and toys to more than 12,000 families in Erie and Niagara counties.

This is the first year KB Toys has taken part in the toy drive.

"The customers have been great," Gordon said.

The Christmas spirit knows no boundaries, as many of the KB Toy customers who donated to the toy fund were from the Canadian side of the border, she added.

The United Way will be accepting new, unwrapped toys from the KB Toy store and a couple of dozen drop-off sites throughout Niagara County until Dec. 20, said Philip Buffone, vice president of United Way of Niagara, which is coordinating the Christmas toy distribution.

"Like everyone else," he said, "we have our last-minute shopping."

The Salvation Army is one of 17 agencies in Niagara County that come under the umbrella of the United Way. Other agencies receiving toys include the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara County.

"The need out there is growing and this is another way people in the community show their generosity," Buffone said.

That generosity put this year's United Way campaign 3 percent over its goal of $887,000 by raising $916,050.

In keeping with continuing tough times for the local economy, the nonprofit organization has lowered its goal each year for the past several years, from $1 million in 2001 to $975,000 in 2004 to $910,000 last year, said Carold Houwaart-Diez, United Way president.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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