Marine Sgt. Jo Ann Ortiz was inside Toys R Us in Hamburg when she fulfilled her childhood dream. Armed with a gift card purchased by the Marines' Toys for Tots campaign, the mother of two bought $32,700 worth of holiday presents that will be distributed to children through The Buffalo News Neediest fund.
Ortiz, born in San Benito, Texas, did not have much as a child, but now she was about to give others what she never experienced -- a "toyful" Christmas.
"I think every kid dreams one day to go into a store and buy whatever she wants," Ortiz said Thursday. "I now have the opportunity to do that for so many kids."
On Friday morning Ortiz attended the 36th annual News Neediest Fund kickoff celebration in the lobby of the newspaper's offices downtown.
News Publisher Warren T. Colville welcomed Ortiz and about 100 people who gathered in the lobby for the festivities that featured performances by the Houghton Academy third-grade chorus.
"People ask me what does The Buffalo News care about?" said Colville during his kickoff remarks. "Look at the events we sponsor each year that involve children. We care about children."
This year's drive was already off to a great start with $56,000 received in monetary donations, said Colville. Last year monetary donations totaled $176,000, he said.
Nearly 10,000 children were helped by the WNY Holiday Partnership in 2016, said Lisa Cislo, promotions coordinator for The News. The News Neediest Fund started in 1982, with the Salvation Army participating in the effort from the start, added Cislo.
Community donations to Toys for Tots Buffalo support the WNY Holiday Partnership. The partnership is a collaboration of 24 nonprofits, The News, Wegmans and Toys for Tots.
Kelly Dodd is director of Contact Center Services for Olmstead Center for Sight. The center started taking calls in October from people looking for help from the WNY Holiday Partnership. So far, the center received 440 calls, Dodd said.
You may make a donation by sending a check to The News Neediest c/o The Buffalo News, PO Box 2667, Buffalo, NY.
For information about how to apply to receive the holiday gifts, and application locations, dates and times, call 2-1-1 or 888-696-9211.