Marlies Wesolowski knows firsthand what it's like to wake up Christmas morning and not have a present to open from Santa Claus.
She grew up "very poor" in England, in a place called Sileby. Her family lived in public housing, and her parents worked two or three jobs each.
The family came to the United States in 1970 when she was 13, in search of a better opportunity.
Since 2001, Wesolowski has been the executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center, headquartered on Broadway in the heart of Buffalo’s Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. She says if it were not for the WNY Holiday Partnership, the Buffalo News Neediest Fund and giving individuals, there would be lots of children in the community the center serves who would not have a present under the Christmas tree.
It's the difference between tears of sadness and tears of joy, she said.
"Having a child wake up Christmas morning and having a present that they can actually get to open and enjoy is hard to quantify," Wesolowski said. "In the life of a child, it is very significant."
The Matt Urban Center is one of the many partners – along with the News Neediest Fund – in the WNY Holiday Partnership's campaign to donate unwrapped toys or financial support for needy families in Western New York. Last year, more than 7,600 infants and children up to 12 years old, and more than 5,400 families, received gifts or holiday food items from the WNY Holiday Partnership.
"It's because of (them) and caring individuals throughout our community that we are able to take care of individuals who are less able to take care of themselves," Wesolowski said.
The Matt Urban Center, which began in 1976, got started under a different name: the Polish Community Center of Buffalo. Since then, the organization – which serves the East Side, Cheektowaga and a small portion of West Seneca – works year-round providing services like crime victims assistance, outreach to the homeless and educational classes.
It also runs food pantries and provides youth, family and senior services and housing services, including home buyer and home repair programs.
Soon the center, which already operates eight separate sites, will open a 27-unit apartment complex in a former school on Sears Street behind the center's Broadway headquarters to house women and women with children, as well as individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues. It will also be home to the new, expanded Matt Urban Hope Center, which provides workshops, free tax preparation, benefits screening, a food pantry and other services and is currently located on Paderewski Drive.
But particularly during the holidays, it's especially important to reinforce the message to children that the community really cares about them, which is the goal of WNY Holiday Partnership, Wesolowski said.
Please join The News and its many partners in the campaign to make sure that no child in the community is forgotten during the holidays.
Gifts of new, unwrapped toys will be accepted at:
- The Buffalo News lobby
- Wegmans stores
- Shea's Performing Arts Center
- Erie County Fairgrounds Festival of Lights
- 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.
For complete listings, go to BuffaloNews.com/newsneediest.
All types of new gifts are needed, especially for children ages 8 to 12, including:
- Arts and crafts kits
- Athletic/sporting goods equipment
- Board games
- iTunes gift cards
- Cosmetics/nail polish/manicure sets
- Video games
- Jewelry/hair accessories
Monetary donations also are accepted to The News Neediest Fund and go toward purchasing holiday meals and/or gifts. Online cash donations can be made at BuffaloNews.com/newsneediest. Checks can be mailed to The News Neediest Fund, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo NY 14240-9873.
For information about how to apply to receive the holiday gifts and application locations, dates and times, call 211 or 888-696-9211.
Story topics: News Neediest