Tonawanda News — A number of local charities, nonprofit organizations and everyday citizens stepped up their efforts to provide for those in need this holiday season.
The Salvation Army was one such group. Per tradition, the volunteers for the organization took to storefronts to ring bells and ask area residents to empty their change into the army’s signature red kettle.
“People are really in the spirit of giving now,” Maj. Celestin Nkounkou, the head of the Tonawanda Salvation Army said.
Nkounkou said the local branch, which serves Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Grand Island and part of Amherst, has reached 85 percent of their $160,000 fundraising goal.
“We really have a lot of need, and we carried expenses over from the last year to this year,” Nkounkou said.
Nkounkou said 296 families, or 1,150 individuals, signed up to receive Christmas assistance this year, an increase of 13 percent from 2011.
The families received a gift basket of food for the holidays and the organization provided Christmas gifts for 542 children. The items were distributed following a Christmas service Dec. 16.
In addition to the holiday items, the money collected also goes towards the organization’s programs year round, including the food pantry, a senior program, music and art programs, emergency financial assistance and worship services.
“We rely on these donations throughout the year,” Nkounkou said.
The Salvation Army is also collecting donations through a virtual red kettle, so individuals may donate online, too.
The YWCA of the Tonawandas also took part in charity efforts this season.
Various organizations, including DeGraff Memorial Hospital and Praxair, Inc., adopted a family involved in the domestic violence program at the YWCA, and provided them with gifts for the holidays.
The YWCA also serves the community through a food pantry on site.
Judy Kirkwood, a volunteer at the pantry, said they have gotten many donations, but could always use more.
“So far we are holding our own,” she said.
But Kirkwood said that after the holidays, donations stagnate while the need for food remains the same.
“Everybody thinks about us at this time of year,” she said. “It is the time when everyone does a food drive, but we really could use help after the holiday. But with a lot of donations, we won’t see them again until another holiday.”
But Kirkwood said they are thankful for the donations they do receive, and said the food pantry always benefits from generous donations from the Food Bank of Western New York.
Local schools and children also pioneered an effort for charitable holiday gift giving, with two Tonawanda kids organizing a Make-A-Wish fundraiser.
Elizabeth and Brian Stone, of the Tonawanda City School District, along with their father, Brian, held a community-wide raffle for a Kindle HD.
Through the raffle tickets, sold at the Tonawanda Bowling Center and General Motors Engine Plant, the family rose $1,713 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The effort was in conjunction with a larger fundraising program for Make-A-Wish at Fletcher School.
As a reward for reaching the school’s monetary goal, the children at the school taped Fletcher School Principal Dr. John McKenna and physical education teacher Jeff Frey to the school wall.
“We set a goal,” McKenna said. “At first, we said if we raised over $500 we would host this event, but that goal was shattered by the students who were able to raise over $5,000.”Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150