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Agencies unite to give aid <br> West Side families receive needed boxes of food and care items

Carmen Santiago tries to help others every opportunity she can -- like when her neighbor moved here recently from Puerto Rico with her three children and few resources.

"She had nothing to eat," Santiago said.

But in helping out the friend with food from her own 10th Street home, Santiago ran out of food for herself and her two kids.

"All I had in the fridge were popsicles," she laughed.

Santiago got a helping hand on Wednesday from the Buffalo Dream Center, Belle Center, Buffalo AmeriCorps and Feed the Children. The organizations joined together on the city's lower West Side to distribute food and hygiene products to 1,200 families in the neighborhood.

"It's great. There are a lot of people who need this help," Santiago said.

Feed the Children's American Feeding Americans caravan, a faith-based organization that is stopping in 50 U.S. cities, provided the goodies. Each family received a 25-pound box of nonperishable food items, another box of personal care products, a box from Avon and a bag of cookies.

The Dream Center, which has been affiliated with Feed the Children for a few years, received vouchers for the giveaway about two weeks ago, said Eric Johns, the center's pastor. Volunteers then went door-to-door in the 14201 ZIP code to pass them out. The center also distributed the vouchers through the Belle Center and other organizations that run after-school, GED and food pantry programs.

Wednesday was pick-up day for the massive food distribution. Residents -- including newcomers from Latin America, Africa and even Burma -- lined up near the Belle Center to pick up the goods. Busti Avenue was blocked off between Maryland and Hudson streets.

"I think this is just wonderful," said Clarisa Davis, who has three kids, ages 6, 3 and 2. A sleep technician, Davis lost her job recently and the family is living on her husband's wages as a teacher's aide.

"This is the good, when everyone gets together to help others," she added.

"This is a good thing for the West Side. There's too much drugs and violence. That's what you hear about all the time. But this is good," said Jose Benitez, who lives on Prospect Avenue.

The caravan plans to stop in 20 major cities this year, said Suzanne Werdenn, spokeswoman for Feed the Children. The goal is to help 200,000 families. So far, 50,000 have benefited.

The sites targeted were most affected by the economic downturn, Werdenn said.

"Buffalo has over 42 percent of its kids in poverty, and the unemployment rate has [grown] the last couple of years," she said.

In addition to helping distribute the food, volunteers from Buffalo AmeriCorps helped carry the boxes to the homes of recipients. And other volunteers blanketed the neighborhood with brooms, rakes and garbage bags to clean up the community.

Neighbors were very grateful.

"I think it's a blessing," said Christine Distefano, who has lived in the community for 20 years.

Feed the Children will be making another stop today on Buffalo's East Side. Greater Faith Bible Tabernacle on Edison Avenue has been given 800 vouchers for families in that neighborhood.


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