NIAGARA FALLS -- "I'm happy if my kids are happy," Caitlin D. Stromberg said as she faced the prospect of a somewhat bleak Christmas for her children, Shannon, 2, and Daniel, 1.
"Barbie dolls. All Shannon ever wants is Barbies. She never has enough of them," Stromberg said. And Daniel likes miniature cars.
But they also need clothes: jeans, T-shirts and sweaters, the young single mother said.
Stromberg, 22, is a self-proclaimed "Navy brat," who has been "on my own since I was 17."
She was born in San Diego and moved to Niagara County several years ago to be close to her mother, Shannon Jayasingat of North Tonawanda. Jayasingat retired as a chief in the Navy medical section after 20 years' service.
Stromberg lived in North Tonawanda before she moved to an apartment on 18th Street in Niagara Falls. She attended North Tonawanda High School and earned her general education diploma in 2009.
She has worked at minimum wage jobs and has done some secretarial work, but currently works 20 days a month as a program assistant in a work release program for the Social Services Department at the Niagara Community Action Program called NiaCAP.
"I'm looking for a job," she said. "I like animals a lot, and I would like to work in a zoo. I worked as an animal handler at a dog kennel for about a year, but I needed more than just the minimum wage."
That's how she wound up with Social Services at NiaCAP.
Stromberg said her job search has been difficult because she has nobody to take care of her children on afternoons and nights. "I have a day care problem," she said.
She is among the thousands of Niagara Frontier families who look to The Buffalo News Neediest Fund for a little extra help during this holiday season.
Last year, the fund helped more than 12,000 families, including 14,000 children, in Erie and Niagara counties.
The News Neediest Fund, which is in its 30th annual campaign, is administered by the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. The fund is expected to distribute more than $700,000 in toys and food this year.
Stromberg was referred to The News Neediest Fund by the Niagara County Partnership and NiaCAP.
Carol Palumbo, supervisor of family development and nutrition for NiaCAP, said the organization's mission is "to empower families to achieve self-sufficiency."