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Christmas toys provided by The News Neediest Fund came just in the nick of time for Tyra Lee and her two children.

After living in a shelter at the Salvation Army for three months, the family moved into an East Side home Dec. 1, just as Lee was being discharged from a hospital after undergoing surgery.

“It has been a great help. I really appreciate it because I was going to do Christmas in January for my family,” Lee said.

The News Neediest Fund and Western New York Holiday Partnership, consisting of 30 organizations, provided toys for 11,000 children as well as toys and gifts for older children through age 12. A total of $172,550 was collected by Tuesday, down slightly from $182,847 in 2012.

Kelly Dodd, resource manager for the Olmsted Center for Sight, which administered the giveaways, said a lot of families needed help, even with a shortened holiday season since Thanksgiving came later this year.

“The need has been just as high as previous years. One thing I noticed, anecdotally, is it seems there was a greater need for food assistance this year. We were referring a lot of people to food pantries,” Dodd said.

Many times, she said, people found themselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own.

“One woman I talked to had just lost her job the day before and wasn’t planning to need assistance, but there she was, looking for toys for her children,” Dodd said.

She said she sees firsthand what a difference The News Neediest Fund makes for many families.

“As I was dropping off some gift cards on Monday, a woman had just received a washer and dryer as a result of a News Neediest story. At the same time someone was bringing her a microwave,” Dodd said.

“It’s a fantastic illustration of the City of Good Neighbors taking care of each other.”

Donations are accepted year-round because there are many families that slip into poverty or become destabilized by unforeseen consequences.

“People can call us at the Olmsted Center at 211 to find out what agencies are accepting what kind of donations, “ Dodd said, noting that the contributions can be used for a last-minute tax writeoff.

Lee said she was grateful to the Salvation Army for providing temporary housing before finding their five-bedroom house.

“Things are looking a lot brighter. Before I didn’t have enough bedroom space. Now we do. I’m looking forward to a new year, a new house and a new start,” Lee said.

Shalonda Williams and her teenage daughter, Tiana Stokes, also found temporary housing at the Salvation Army when they came to Buffalo from Detroit. Two years ago, The News Neediest Fund helped the family enjoy a Christmas they didn’t expect to have.

“My daughter got Christmas like nobody’s business,” she said, noting the toys and her daughter’s prized roller skates that landed under her tree that year.

“They actually brought me Christmas also. I got a bathrobe, bath towels, and it came in a big box,” Williams said.

“When I emptied the box out, there was an envelope at the bottom for $100 worth of gift cards for food, and for soap and personals.”

Williams, who today works as a licensed practical nurse and lives with her daughter in West Seneca, remains full of gratitude.

“Things are extremely better,” she said.

“Buffalo looks out for their families, their women and children. And if you’re determined, you can do it. It’s not like I wanted to live on the system. I just needed the help. They didn’t ask me any questions other than what I needed to do to prosper. And that’s what I did – I took the helping hand, and I ran with it.

“I couldn’t believe someone would help me,” she added.

email: msommer@buffnews.com