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There's still time to apply and to give to the News Neediest Fund

There's still time to donate to the Buffalo News Neediest Fund, and there is still time to apply for help for the holidays.

Toys collected through the Neediest Fund are distributed through the Western New York Holiday Partnership, which is administered by 211 WNY-Olmsted Center for Sight. Monetary donations go to the Food Bank of Western New York, which provides extra holiday food for clients at certain food pantries.

There are lots of ways to apply.

You can go to a local service agency, or you can call 211 or 888-696-9211. And this year, you can text your ZIP code to 898-211.

"We're getting different people and more people. We’re also able to screen them for other needs," said Kelly Dodd, of the Olmsted Center for Sight and 211.

Texts are answered from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Texts received in off hours are answered during the week.

When someone texts a ZIP code, a staff member will reply and ask what is needed. Staff typically ask the questions that are asked over the telephone to determine eligibility and the children's ages.

Knowing the ZIP code allows them to find the closest center accepting applications. They can also tell the person what paperwork is required to apply.

Dawn Vanderkooi, who responds to the text messages, said there are about 10 text messages waiting every morning.

"It's a great opportunity for people to get in touch with us," she said. She said there are people texting who were not aware of the holiday project or what the 211 program does. Once the information is sent via text, it's there on the phone and easy to access, she said.

The News Neediest Fund, which started in 1982 to help people who could not afford to buy holiday gifts, raised $150,000 last year. That campaign resulted in more than 7,600 toys being donated to children 12 and under and more than 5,400 families being assisted.

Families who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program can receive toys and gifts for their children 12 and younger through the Western New York Holiday Partnership. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 6.

The Holiday Partnership is a collaboration of local nonprofit groups, The Buffalo News, Wegmans and the U.S.Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

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