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A mother to her community puts her Santa hat on for Christmas

Antwan Diggs knew exactly who to reach out to when an unemployed father of seven children came to him Wednesday – six days before Christmas – desperate for presents and warm clothes for each of his kids.

He called Elizabeth Triggs.

For more than 30 years, Triggs, who runs the None Like You/We Care community outreach program, has served her community in any way she could think of.

She serves dozens of seniors hot meals every Sunday in the community room at the front of her house on Sycamore Street. Upstairs she has a bank of computers that she lets students and anyone else who needs them use. Nearby at an old house on Southampton Street that she bought for $1, she's brought in hundreds of volunteers to fix up the place and turn it into another community space. And in the summers, she gathers more volunteers to work on community gardens on the East Side.

Every November, she coordinates donations of hot turkey meals for at least 3,000 people, and during Christmas, she's back at work giving away hot meals, gifts for kids and warm clothes for their families.

So it occurred to Diggs, the pastor at Hananiah Lutheran church who is also the program coordinator for Buffalo's Community Crime Prevention Initiative, that Triggs might have some extra presents.

"I knew Mother Triggs might have something for them," he said.

It turned out she didn't. She had just finished making arrangements for gifts and fresh Christmas trees for 60 families. But Triggs put the word out on her Facebook page that night to the 150 or so members of her board. They immediately began volunteering to "adopt" children to provide them with toys and clothes.

Jon and Heather Williams of the OSC Charitable Foundation donated money for some of the gifts. Virginia Golden with Neighbors and Friends Advocating for Environmental Justice also stepped in to help. The Home Depot on Elmwood Avenue arranged to bring trees to give away.

By Thursday morning, the stairs to the Sycamore house were lined with gifts: a Duplo pizzeria playset, craft kits, cans of Progresso chicken noodle soup, boxes of macaroni and cheese and a new Crockpot.

The stairway at Elizabeth Triggs' house is lined with gifts to give away for the holidays. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Triggs, 69, brushes aside any comparison to Santa Claus. "I'm Santa's angel," she said Thursday in the dark and cozy community room next to a twinkling Christmas tree.

She's quick to acknowledge she could never do what she does without help from the network of donors and volunteers she's created. "It's not just me. Without my helpers, I can't get anything done."

Her phone buzzes with texts and calls every few minutes as one of her cats, Friska Friska, snuggles up next to her on the coach.

Then she shouts to one of her volunteers: "Make sure you call your mom and tell her I'll have a tree for you all."

By Friday morning, she had presents for every one of the man's children, along with gifts for five dozen other families and even fresh Christmas trees ready to give out.

The father didn't want to be identified, Diggs said. He lost his job a few months ago and is embarrassed that he can't provide for his kids, who range in age from 6 to 10. "But he's trying to be involved with his kids," Diggs said.

Triggs loves being able to help.

"It makes me feel good," she said, "like I'm doing something that's important in my life. It gives meaning to my life."

She's inspired by the story about the Christmas shoes, which has been turned into songs and a couple of movies, about a little boy who wants to buy new shoes for his dying mother for Christmas so that she'll have nice shoes to wear when she meets Jesus. A man buys the shoes the boys picks out for him. She thought of that story Wednesday night as donors jumped in to help.

"Everybody has been responding," she said.

So once the presents have been given out, what will Mother Triggs be doing Christmas morning?

"I'll try to sleep," she said with a big smile.

That's unless someone needs her help.

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