Deborah Merchant is trying to make a better life for her children and herself.
A recovering addict who has been clean for six years, Merchant was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago.
Her three children are in special-education classes, and all are on some kind of medication.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Mahogany Turner, has emotional problems that cause her to act like an 8-year-old at times. She is on medication for depression.
Merchant's 9-year-old son, Larry White, has attention deficit disorder and a tendency to lash out at his siblings and to hurt himself. He takes medicine for his hyperactivity.
Ta'Janne Merchant, her 7-year-old daughter, is almost blind in her left eye. Doctors had her try eyeglasses but saw no improvement. Surgery may be the next step.
Through it all, Deborah Merchant remains optimistic.
"Through the grace of God, it all comes together. It's a struggle, but it's all about getting through it. You get through it and you keep going," she said.
Merchant has been a client at Community Action Information Center for about a year. The Wohlers Avenue food pantry provides groceries for about 260 families a month. During the holidays, the figure swells to 500. The center also makes monthly home deliveries to about 100 senior citizens and will provide 102 families toys this Christmas. Food bags will be given out until 2:30 p.m. Friday.
The pantry is one of many food distribution sites that will receive donations during the holiday season, thanks to the collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership.
The News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership joined to provide food and toys to more than 12,000 needy families in Erie and Niagara counties this holiday season.
Throughout her recovery, Merchant has been participating in a mental-health program to learn how to deal with traumas that happen in her life instead of turning to drugs.
Also, she works with a preventive care worker from Gateway-Longview who helps her learn how to handle and deal with her children in healthier and more positive ways.
In addition, the Riley Street mother will be going to Erie Community College next year to become a drug counselor, a goal she has had for the past several years.
The reason? To freely give back that which was given to her freely, she said.
"I think that mental health plays a role in addiction. If you don't deal with issues, you keep going in and out of recovery. That's because of mental issues that go unaddressed. I think that's why addicts do what they do," Merchant said.
>The News Neediest Fund
Cash donations to purchase 12,000 holiday dinners and other perishable items.
New, unwrapped items for 8- to 12-year-olds, such as books, electronic games, board games, crafts, gift cards, cosmetics, athletic equipment.
Where to give:
Drop-off sites for gifts include:
* The Buffalo News lobby at Washington and Scott streets
* The News' Niagara County Bureau at 8353 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls (Military Road side of Pine Plaza)
* All Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties
* Toys for Tots donation barrels scattered throughout the region
* For large group donations of gifts, call Deborah Patti at 849-5524
* Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, Station C Post Office, 1245 Main St., PO Box 444, Buffalo, NY 14209-0444
Who are the participating organizations:
The Western New York Holiday Partnership is a collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, Central Referral Services, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., Hamburg Youth Bureau, Ladies of Charity, Lancaster Youth Bureau, New Creation Fellowship, Niagara County Partnership, Response to Love Center, the Salvation Army, the USMC Toys for Tots program, West Seneca AmeriCorps, WNY Hispanics & Friends.