Helping families that have very little during the holiday season is the inspiration for two young girls who understand the spirit of giving – not just receiving.
Five-year Olivia Roneker of West Seneca recently organized her first food drive, but it certainly will not be her last.
And 11-year-old Madison Scott of Lockport has been collecting toys for less fortunate children for a few years. It’s something she will continue doing.
“Every year, it makes me feel amazing. I get this happy feeling,” Madison said.
Between them, the girls collected thousands of toys and hundreds of pounds of food items for this year’s News Neediest Fund.
Olivia collected enough bags and boxes of food items to fill two SUVs. The bounty was dropped off Friday at Evangelistic E’s Pantry in Cheektowaga.
“We really appreciate it. She can do this anytime,” said Janet Ensmenger, who runs the pantry, which receives support from the News Neediest Fund. The fund is administered by the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. 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.
Olivia turned over pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, stuffing, boxed mashed potatoes and even a frozen turkey.
The food drive was her idea, said her mother, Amy. It came about after her school – Northwood Elementary in West Seneca – ran a food drive. When Olivia came home from school one day, she told her mother about her plan to help others.
“I was thinking we could have a food drive,” Olivia said. “So they can have nutritious, healthy food.”
Olivia had been collecting food since Thanksgiving from neighbors, aunts and uncles, friends and even her parents’ co-workers.
“Some of my employees donated,” said Mrs. Roneker, a manager at Outback Restaurant in Hamburg. “Olivia spent a lot of time at the restaurant. Some of our regulars who know her donated.”
Olivia even created about 10 signs that read, “Olivia’s Food Drive. Please Donate. Thank You.”
Olivia was so focused on her goal that when her parents asked her what she wanted for Christmas, the little girl responded, “some more donations.”
Olivia already is thinking about organizing more drives next year and beyond.
The reason she does it is simple. “I heard about people who are needy, and they might not have enough money,” she said.
Meanwhile, Madison dropped off 1,000 toys that she collected for the News Neediest Fund.
It is a tradition of giving that Madison started in 2008 as a second-grader at Fricano Elementary School in the Starpoint School District.
That year Madison donated half of her Christmas toys to the fund. She also inspired two of her brothers to donate as well as her grandparents, many aunts, uncles and cousins from Tonawanda to Philadelphia to Tampa. One of her cousins who worked at a local bank even established a charity account for the toy drive. In the end, Madison and her father, George, dropped off more than 300 toys to the fund.
Madison expanded her reach the following year and collected donations of about 700 toys, games and other items by going door-to-door throughout her neighborhood and taking donations from her classmates at school. She also left a box at her father’s office, and another box was placed at her younger sister’s day care center. A third collection box was set up at Room to Spare Storage in Lockport.
Madison said the support just keeps building.
“When I first started, just my family and friends were donating toys. Now it’s people in my neighborhood and people I don’t even know. The word is really getting around,” Madison said Friday as she dropped off the loot in the lobby of The Buffalo News.
This year, she also collected about 500 pounds of food items – including four turkeys – and expects to do even better next year.
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.