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News Neediest kicks off holiday giving season

The News Neediest holiday fundraising and gift drive, looking for extra help for those struggling to cope with this week’s storm, started its annual drive Friday morning near the Christmas tree in the Buffalo News lobby.

Volunteer ballerinas, dressed in “Nutcracker” tutus, arranged boxes of donated dolls, trucks and playhouses around the lower branches of the tree as leaders from some of the 23 participating businesses and nonprofit organizations looked on.

“Resources are going to be extra-stressed this year,” said Kelly Dodd, assistant director of the Olmsted Center for Sight’s call center services.

Last year’s donations fed 12,000 families and gave toys to 11,000 children. This year even more families and children are expected to need holiday meals and presents.

“Their cupboards are bare and they finally ate that last can of kidney beans that’s been there for three years,” said Dodd, who coordinates the service that refers people to agencies when they dial 211 for help.

United Way President Michael Weiner spoke of the impact of this week’s storm, noting that lost wages would compound the stress for a family of four living on a minimum-wage paycheck.

“They can’t even get to work,” he said. “Just think about all the families who live south of the city and are already at federal poverty … They’re going to be struggling to make ends meet … That’s what makes this gift-giving even more powerful.”

Last year, toy donations filled a 6,000-square-foot warehouse and people gave about $192,000 to the fund. So far this year, the News Neediest Fund has $57,000 on hand.

Go to to find drop-off locations and get more information.

The deadline to register for assistance from the fund is Dec. 5.

“Please be generous with your contributions. Now is the time to show that we truly are the City of Good Neighbors,” said Warren Colville, publisher and president of The Buffalo News.

The News Neediest Fund, was founded during the Depression, stopped for decades, and then was revived during the economic downturn in 1982. It has continued ever since.

While Friday’s gathering in the News lobby launched the drive’s collection of toys and money, Dodd said the holiday work of social service agencies started last month. That’s when the Olmsted Center began taking requests from families that dialed 211.

“It’s been steady,” said Dodd, adding they have had to adjust during the storm since some staff could not make it to work because they were snowbound. “We’ve had people working from home.”

Dancers from the Neglia Ballet said they were happy for the chance to help out while dressed in costumes they will wear in next weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker” at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. “It makes it feel like the Christmas season,” said Hannah Arndt.

Fellow dancer Breanna Ianiero, who carried Dora the Explorer dolls to the tree, felt the holiday spirit, too.

“It’s nice to give back to the community and give back to the children,” she said. “I’m just really happy to be able to do this for them.”