Fourteen years ago, Sharon Tell was a 34-year-old mother of three who relied on welfare after she lost her job because of an illness.
Today, Tell is a 48-year-old mother of four, and she's spending as much time as she can helping others.
Tell's West Side living room includes a small Christmas tree surrounded by dozens of gifts. But few are for her or her family.
Most of them will be distributed to people even needier than she through several organizations that Tell, her children and her fiancé have founded.
They include the Team of HOPE, which stands for Helping Out People Everywhere, and Keeping the Peace, an anti-bullying effort. Tell's fiancé, Jermaine Joyner, also participates in SNUG, which stands for Should Never Use Guns and aids the survivors of violent crime in Buffalo.
She showed a reporter bags full of winter hats and mittens to be handed out at local community centers.
Tell taps into a network of dozens of companies, stores, politicians and churches that help her by providing clothes, toys, school supplies and other goods she can hand out to people in need.
"I have all the bosses' phone numbers," Tell said.
Major helpers include BlueCross BlueShield, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo and Back to Basics Outreach Ministry on William Street.
She also has an eye on bargains, displaying a stash of mini-Christmas stockings that she picked up last year for a dime each at an after-Christmas sale at Walgreens. The stockings will be stuffed with goodies for the kids and families her groups help.
"We're doing kids on the East Side, because of the shootings," Tell said. "On the West Side, we're doing immigrants. We have water bottles, jump ropes, sanitizers, Band-Aids. Everybody's getting their own personal card or candy canes. We do backpacks, too. We did over 2,000 this year."
Her financial situation still isn't bright and her health remains a problem. But the News Neediest Fund helped get her on her feet.
Tell said that after The News published a story about her in December 2004, she received plenty of aid.
"Checks came in every day or every week at my (then) job at Buffalo Employment and Training Center," Tell said. "They would bring them to my house. People would even mail them to our home, and that lasted for three years."
She still spends a lot of time on medical appointments – she's on disability because of multiple sclerosis, lupus and diabetes – but her charitable work is year-round.
Her fiancé and her children – Nashaun White, Naja White, Dejahnae Haynes and DeMarcus Tell, ranging in age from 10 to 28 – also are active in those efforts.
"We do every holiday," she said. "We're ready for Easter already."
She distributed turkeys, hams and groceries to 30 needy families at Thanksgiving. There are themed distributions for Three Kings Day, Martin Luther King Day, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, among others.
"We have our office space at CRUCIAL (on Moselle Street) and at City Hall, 24th floor. We are at Back to Basics. Every library, we have done events," Tell said. "We've even gone back to my hometown of Dunkirk. We did 750 backpacks with the mayor."
She dreams of having a van for her deliveries – her pickups and dropoffs are done in her 2013 Nissan Sentra – or a commercial storage unit for all the materials she has. But both are financially out of reach.
And with flyers and word of mouth in the community, Tell's phone is constantly busy.
"This morning we just got a call from someone. Domestic violence. This girl just had a baby and her boyfriend's beating her up," Tell said. "We'll be on call all day. You never know the emergencies. We have 76 organizations with us."
Tell is a domestic violence survivor herself, as The News reported in the 2004 article. Her experiences have made her a skilled crisis counselor, although she's never had formal training.
"This is my mission," Tell said. "I can't stop. You can't stop if someone needs your help."