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A time for giving; WNY has a reputation for generosity, but also has great needs this season

Will Buffalo pull through? It always has, and that's the way this city is, not to mention the rest of Western New York. When there is a need, the need is met -- especially at Christmastime. It's just the way we're built here.

Think of Robin Tolsma, the involuntarily outed "Secret Santa." Tolsma, whose husband Darren died in the Flight 3407 crash in Clarence almost three years ago, wanted to repay the community in some way for all the kindness she received following her husband's death. Her daughter, Nikki, suggested that instead of sending out their usual 200 Christmas cards, they put the money toward helping others.

So Tolsma went to the Kmart at French and Transit roads in Cheektowaga and offered to pay for a customer's layaway items. The woman was overwhelmed, she said, and so, presumably, were the other customers whose items she covered. Word quickly got out and Tolsma's effort at anonymous generosity became a headline.

Or what about Nick Sam, a 16-year-old senior at Canisius High School? With family ties to Japan, Nick decided to do something to help ease the suffering of the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated part of the country in March. After brainstorming ideas with his father, he began an effort to sell "Hope for Japan" wristbands at schools in the area. The schools also found other ways to raise money, a total so far of $22,000.

Western New Yorkers are also donating to The News Neediest Fund, sponsored by The Buffalo News, and other seasonal campaigns, including Toys for Tots.

It is heartening to see people make unsolicited efforts to help others in need, and Western New Yorkers can take pride in their history of reaching out. Still, there is more to do this holiday season.

Even though merchants are reporting the healthiest sales since the start of the Great Recession, charities in the region are having a hard time meeting their goals. The Salvation Army, the Buffalo City Mission, Compeer of Greater Buffalo and even Roswell Park Cancer Institute are among the organizations falling short in their fund-raising efforts.

The holiday season is critical to many of these organizations. "That's kind of our time of year," said Maj. Thomas Applin, coordinator of the Salvation Army in Buffalo. "We're most visible then, but that money is used all year long."

Donations may be down because, despite the uptick in holiday sales, many people in the area are struggling financially. But that, of course, also means that the need is high.

We hope all Western New Yorkers will be true to their reputations and dig a little deeper for the charities they traditionally support -- or even make a donation where they haven't in the past.

After all, it's that time of year.

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