A shortage of toys at the height of the Christmas season -- especially for children ages 8 to 12 -- has the Western New York Holiday Partnership worried.
"To date, there are 9,400 children on the list [to receive gifts]," said Michele Magaris, director of community relations for the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. "Of those, more than 4,100 are overage 8.
"There is a critical need for gifts for this age group," added Magaris, who is United Way's project manager for The News Neediest Fund.
The Neediest Fund is in its 25th year and part of the Western New York Holiday Partnership.
"Many of the organizations are distributing to families this week and they do not have enough new gifts for these children. We need the public to donate toys," she said.
The heaviest toy distribution takes place through Wednesday or Thursday of this week. The campaign concludes Friday, two days before Christmas Eve.
Why the toy shortage?
"Overall, the organizations who we work with are saying it seems slower this year," said Magaris.
"We know we have fewer toys, and the need for gifts for the 8- to 12-year-olds is growing by the day. All of the Holiday Partnership agencies are asking for them."
Last year at this time, The News Neediest Fund had received $84,359 in donations, Magaris said, compared with $53,816 so far this year. However, that gap may be misleading because of such factors as the time it takes to process donations.
About 15,000 children received toys and gifts through the Holiday Partnership's campaign last Christmas.
Hearing about the problem, Gunnery Sgt. Teresa M. Snow, the Marine supply sergeant at the Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center on Porter Avenue, ordered $10,000 worth of toys on Thursday and planned to drop them off at the distribution warehouse this weekend.
The annual campaign also includes 58 food pantries distributing holiday dinners. This year 12,000 dinners have been purchased.
Local families whose stories are featured in The Buffalo News during the holiday fund drive also receive supermarket gift certificates as well as assistance from the agency sponsoring them. And many of these families also benefit from the generosity of their co-workers, employers and others smitten by the holiday spirit.
Karen Dubawsky of the West Side, a Taco Bell worker, was recently diagnosed with cancer and is beginning treatments at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
She wants to work as many hours as possible to support herself and her 15-year-old son, but she knows that sooner or later, she will have to undergo surgery and faces a long convalescence.
After her story ran last Sunday in The News, brothers Michael and Brian Barrett, owners of 10 local Taco Bells, decided to give her $1,000 and to take up a collection as well. The money will be presented to Dubawsky during the holiday party of BBG North Inc.
Tom Akers, director of local marketing, said the Taco Bell campaign for Dubawsky will continue between Christmas and New Year's as customers are invited to "change up" their bills to the next dollar and leave the change for Dubawsky.
There are many Western New Yorkers still in need this holiday season, and last-minute donations to The News Neediest Fund will help them to enjoy a merrier Christmas.