It's almost a year later, and Debora Merchant is still grateful to The News Neediest fund for making last Christmas happen.
"We wouldn't have had a Christmas," she said. "My kids wouldn't have got what they wished for if it wasn't for News Neediest. They got things we weren't able to afford."
The Buffalo family was one of thousands helped by the annual holiday drive that assists needy families with food and gifts.
The effort last year bought holiday dinners for 12,000 with $150,000, through the Food Bank of Western New York and 56 local food pantries.
The Western New York Holiday Partnership donated another $550,000 in toys and other essentials to families throughout the area.
It's still fresh in Merchant's memory: 9-year-old Ta'Janne joyfully unwrapping a Baby Alive doll; 10-year-old Larry excited about his new ATM piggy bank; and 14-year-old Mahogany's satisfaction of finally getting a printer for her computer. All three of Merchant's children are in special education classes, take medication and suffer emotional problems or a physical disability. Merchant is bipolar.
"Just to see their faces on Christmas Day and watch them was my gift," the 46-year-old said.
The single mom, recovering from 23 years of drug addiction, got an additional gift -- her first job. After Merchant and her children were featured in The Buffalo News, she was hired to work as a part-time counselor for homeless young mothers.
"I work with them so they don't go the same route I went," she said. "This is the first job I've ever had. I'm like a reformed criminal. I went from doing criminal activities when I was on drugs to now, seven years later, I'm part of positive change."
Karen Dubawsky and her 16-year-old son also felt the generosity of Western New Yorkers last year via The News Neediest fund. And it came at a time when it was most needed. Dubawsky had been diagnosed with cancer and had to stop working at Buffalo State dining services because of her chemotherapy treatments.
Donations in all forms poured in, including a $1,000 check from a local business and a shopping trip for her son.
"I was able to live on that money until my disability came in," she said. "It was really a big help." Her son got a much-needed winter coat and new clothes. His school principal bought him the popular Nintendo Wii game system.
Dubawsky said she's now cancer-free and back to work. And, like Merchant, she sings the praises of the fund.
"News Neediest made a big difference; it was really a saving grace," she said.