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As Western New Yorkers begin the sleigh ride to Christmas, they will no doubt notice that not everyone is on board for the ride. In the region that includes the third-poorest large city in the country, many children will do without presents and many families without a holiday meal.

However, it is within the power of the rest of us to do something about that.

This is the 31st year of The News Neediest Fund, begun in 1982 as a way to help area families who could not afford holiday gifts. The need today is greater than it was then. To ease that plight, The News Neediest Fund is collecting gifts of cash and new, unwrapped gifts to be distributed to families that apply. The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County administers the program.

During last year’s drive, the fund assisted more than 12,000 families and 14,000 children by distributing more than $700,000 in toys and food.

“This year, more than ever, we need all the help we can get. It’s really challenging for families right now,” said News President Warren Colville.

Of particular need this year are gifts for older children – ages 8 to 12 – whose needs can be overlooked as donors focus on the smallest children. Books, electronic and video games, board games, crafts, sports and athletic gear and equipment, gift cards, jewelry, beauty items, skateboards and scooters are suggestions for that age group. All cash donations go toward purchasing 12,000 holiday meals and gifts.

Unwrapped toys will be accepted in The News lobby at Washington and Scott streets from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The dropoff sites include Wegmans stores (toys only) in both counties, Shea’s Performing Arts Center’s box office, the Hamburg Fairgrounds annual Holiday Lights Festival and a number of Hunt Real Estate locations in both counties, as well as Dipson Theatres.

In Niagara County, dropoff sites are Tops in Lewiston, Edward Jones in Lewiston,  Wegmans on Military Road,  Nike in the Fashion Outlet Mall, Cornerstone Credit Union locations in Lockport, Middleport and North Tonawanda, Tin Pan Alley in Lewiston and General Motors Components Handling in Lockport

A detailed breakdown of other dropoff locations throughout Erie and Niagara counties is at buffalonews.com/newsneediest.

Distribution of toys is handled through the Western New York Holiday Partnership, a collaborative effort of The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, the United Way of Greater Niagara, Niagara County Partnership, the Salvation Army and many other organizations.

To ensure delivery by Christmas, donations are encouraged to be made by Dec. 10, but will be accepted up until Christmas.

Cash donations can be made using PayPal or a credit card at buffalonews.com/newsneediest, or by sending a check to The News Neediest Fund c/o The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, NY 14240-9873.

How to apply for gifts:

Applications will be accepted until Dec. 8. For applications, sites, hours of operation and eligibility requirements, call 211 WNY-Olmsted Center for Sight, by dialing 211 or (888) 696-9211, seven days a week between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.