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Stolen gifts spur outpouring Flood of presents for needy children far exceeds initial loss

People across Western New York have swiftly provided dozens of new Christmas presents for the 60 children whose gifts were stolen from a parked car five days ago.

A new supply of puzzles, finger paints, water guns, sponge footballs, gloves, scarves and more has grown steadily, with more treasures arriving by the hour.

Come Thursday, every child at Sacred Heart Elementary School on Genesee Street in Bowmansville will have a bag of gifts to tear into.

The theft, at first, seemed devastating. But it only opened the floodgates of good will.

"As upset as we all were about it, I'm just overwhelmed about how the community came together," said Kathy Swenson, the marketing director for Gateway-Longview, a not-for-profit agency that runs Sacred Heart as well as other schools and programs for children with behavioral, emotional or educational issues.

Gateway-Longview annually collects toys and clothing so it can fill a gift bag for each of its children. Thursday, staff members from Sacred Heart arrived at Gateway-Longview's headquarters, 605 Niagara St., to fill their cars with the gift bags for their pupils.

Returning to Sacred Heart, a teacher's aide stopped for a few minutes at the Lexington Real Foods Community Co-op on Elmwood Avenue. That's where the sight of gift bags crammed inside a parked car proved irresistible to thieves.

Wendy Kinscherf emerged from the store to find her car had been emptied.

"I was just sick . . . just physically sick," she said.

The story in the The Buffalo News two days later struck a chord in dozens of people.

"Seeing that article, I decided to act," said a man who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Randy. "I thought it was sad. It was actually disgusting. It's for needy kids. And to have their toys stolen . . . ."

"I told them I would replace all of them," he said.

He planned Monday night to spend more than $1,000 at three department stores, even though gifts are pouring in from elsewhere.

At Williamsville East High School, the Future Business Leaders of America Club had days earlier collected a few dozen toys, but its members were uncertain about where to send them. When chapter adviser David Mellerski read about the theft, he knew. So did the students.

Every donation tells a story. Some will never be fully known. A bag of gifts left at 605 Niagara contained this card:

"To the children of Sacred Heart Elementary School," it began, ". . . these gifts are given to the children in memory of a deceased loved one who loved her children and fought a tough battle to be with them."

There were large donations. The Dollar Tree store on Transit Road, for example, sent $250 worth of items.

Some donations were especially large, when considering the donor's ability to give. An 8-year-old boy told of Sacred Heart's loss took the almost $10 he had been saving from his allowance and spent it on a toy truck for the kids.

The gift was left by his mother at Gateway-Longview's Lynde School in Williamsville.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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