For the 37th year, Santa Claus is getting some help from Western New Yorkers through The Buffalo News Neediest Fund.
News Publisher and President Warren T. Colville kicked off this year's drive by welcoming about 100 people to lobby of the newspaper's offices for festivities that featured a tree lighting, performances by the Houghton Academy seventh-grade chorus and appearances by ballerinas from the upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker” at Shea's Performing Arts Center.
"This kickoff is really key because it reminds the community that it's this time of the year and Santa is not delivering the toys alone," said Kelly Dodd, director of Contact Center Services for the Olmsted Center for Sight.
"The more the community is thinking about it, the more generous they can be during this season, and the easier it is for all of us to make it a happy holiday for families. We can’t wait until the last minute."
Last year, 8,300 gift items were distributed to families, Colville said.
"This means a lot to the community, because everyone pitches in to this endeavor," said Colville.
United Way of Erie County President Michael Weiner said the program is valued because it can help the more than 60 percent of families in Buffalo who are facing financial hardship.
"I love this event because what it does is put joy and hope in the lives of children in our community and families who are less fortunate," said Weiner. "The vision that The Buffalo News had 37 years ago to bring together partners in the community to make items available to families, there’s nothing more critical than doing something like that."
The News is joined by partners the United Way, Food Bank of Western New York, Olmsted Center for Sight, Wegmans, Benderson Development, Fisher Price, Dipson Theatres and Toys For Tots in the effort, which involves more than 20 nonprofits.
"It’s fantastic," said Sgt. Lee Gugino of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. "It’s different from what we normally do as Marines. But it’s a time of year where it shakes things up and kind of reminds you what you’re doing everything for."
#HappyHolidays from One News Plaza, where @wcolville, @mweineruwbec of the @uwbec & @kdodd3 of @211WNY lit the Christmas Tree in the lobby of @TheBuffaloNews to kick off the 37th annual News Neediest Fund drive. pic.twitter.com/aAyOJkcO0R
— Keith McShea (@ByKeithMcShea) November 14, 2018
Monetary gifts to The News Neediest Fund will be directed to meals via Food Bank of Western New York. Last year more than 4,000 households were assisted, according to Food Bank services manager Michael Daloia.
"You think about toys at the holiday times, but there are still people who are struggling to make ends meet with food all the time," said Daloia, who noted that the Food Bank has helped distribute more than $2 million since joining the News Neediest Fund in 1999. "So this goes really far to help with that.
"Our agencies at the Food Bank rely heavily on the assistance of the News Neediest Fund. It takes a lot of burden off of our agencies too because they are slammed as it is, and at the holiday times, even more."
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.
Donation may be sent by check to The News Neediest Fund c/o The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, NY 14240-9873 or by going to BuffaloNews.com/newsneediest.
Gifts of new, unwrapped toys will be accepted at:
- The Buffalo News lobby
- Shea's Performing Arts Center
- Erie County Fairgrounds Festival of Lights
- Mattress Firm (all Western New York locations)
- Hunt Real Estate's Western New York offices
- Jim Murphy Buick/GMC (3000 Walden Ave., Depew)
- Excuria Salon & Spa (5725 Main St., Williamsville)
- Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center (1829 Main St.)
- U.S. Marine Corps Reserve "Toys for Tots" locations (see list at buffalo-ny.toysfortots.org).
More information about drop-off locations and donations is at BuffaloNews.com/newsneediest.