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The holiday spirit has been eluding Jamie Gugino, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

During an approximately six-week period this fall, the Buffalo home she shares with her three children – Aviana, 7; Calogzaro, 9; and Sazileo, 14 – was burglarized four times, most recently in late November.

That last time, the intruders still were inside when Gugino and her children returned to their Riverside home of six years. As the family walked through the front door, the burglars walked out the side door, she said.

“The loss is enough … but it’s the feeling you get inside of your house. It’s uncomfortable,” said Gugino, 33, who noted that she had an alarm system installed after the first burglary.

All told, she said, the family’s losses total about $5,000, including cosmetology equipment belonging to Gugino, who is a licensed cosmetologist; electronic game systems belonging to the kids; some jewelry; and a small amount of cash. The insurance company is talking about reimbursing half that amount, she said.

Further, both of her sons have lost their bicycles: one was taken during one of the burglaries, and the other disappeared during a basketball game, she said.

The family is facing financial challenges, as well, as Gugino juggles car insurance payments and a mortgage.

The father of Gugino’s two younger children moved to Puerto Rico about three months ago. “He’s an ocean away,” she said. And in August, Gugino quit her job of four years, on the catering side of a chain restaurant, when her pay was cut by 25 percent.

She recently started a new job, bartending at a Buffalo restaurant. “It’s something for now,” she said.

Gugino’s family is among the thousands of families that will be helped this year by the 31st annual News Neediest Fund. Last year, the fund assisted more than 12,000 families and 14,000 children by distributing more than $700,000 in toys and food.

The Riverside Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northtowns, where Gugino’s children attend after-school programs, is among the agencies collaborating with the Western New York Holiday Partnership to distribute toys from this year’s campaign.

“The majority of members that we serve come from single-parent families, as well as living in the poverty level,” said Robert O’Brocta, director of operations for Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northtowns.

“In addition to our own members, we are getting a lot more calls,” said O’Brocta, which helps get more people involved. “It’s kind of like a win-win with our involvement with News Neediest.”

Meanwhile, Gugino also is taking classes at the University at Buffalo, where she is majoring in English. She started her studies in 1997, then took a break following the birth of her older son before going back to school last year.

Some day, Gugino said, she would like to write and teach.

These days, it’s easy to see why Christmas isn’t foremost on her mind.

“I have literally had to drag myself out of my house the past week,” she said during a recent interview. “I was depressed … missed a couple of classes. I couldn’t even think.

“I have not one Christmas present.”

That will change, thanks to those who give to The News Neediest Fund.

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The News Neediest Fund

What’s needed:

• Cash donations to purchase 12,000 holiday dinners and other perishable items

• New, unwrapped toys for very young children

• New, unwrapped items for 8- to 12-year-olds, such as books, electronic games, board games, crafts, gift cards, cosmetics, athletic equipment

Where to give:

Drop-off sites for gifts include:

In Erie County:

• The Buffalo News lobby at Washington and Scott streets

• All Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties (toys only)

• Hunt Real Estate Corp. WNY offices

• Dipson Theatres in Buffalo and Erie County

• Shea’s Performing Arts Center box office

• Toys for Tots donation barrels scattered throughout region

• Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights

In Niagara County:

• Tops in Lewiston

• Edward Jones in Lewiston

• Wegmans on Military Road, Niagara Falls

• Nike in the Fashion Outlet Mall, Niagara Falls

• Cornerstone Credit Union, two locations in Lockport, one in Middleport and one in North Tonawanda

• Tin Pan Alley, Lewiston

• General Motors Components Handling, Lockport

For a complete list of locations and times, go to buffalonews.com/newsneediest

• Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, NY 14240-9873 or donate at buffalonews.com/newsneediest

Who are the participating organizations:

The Western New York Holiday Partnership is a collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and Greater Niagara, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northtowns, 211 WNY-Olmsted Center for Sight, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., Hamburg Youth Bureau, Ladies of Charity, Lancaster Youth Bureau, New Creation Fellowship, Niagara County Partnership, Response to Love Center, the Salvation Army, the USMC Toys for Tots, the Service Collaborative of WNY, Community Action Organization of Erie County, Expressway Assembly of God, Fellowship Hill Ministries, Olivencia Community Center, Resurrection Lutheran Church Food Pantry, True Bethel Charities and PUSH.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com