Program brings Christmas gifts to needy children, families
By Karen Carr Keefe
One of Barbara Nowakowski’s greatest joys was helping the less fortunate at Christmastime, her family says. After she passed away in September, Barbara’s daughters, Susan Nowakowski Miles and Diane Saddler, decided to carry on the program in their mom’s memory.
Now, continuing under the new name of Barb’s Butterfly Effect, the longstanding program will again bring gifts of warm clothing and toys to local children in need.
Donors are asked to “adopt” a child or family for Christmas, shop for them, and get the gifts to Miles and Saddler by Dec. 6 so they can get them distributed. If interested in donating, email Miles at [email protected] to get the name, age, clothing size and toy suggestions for the child or family you adopt for the holidays.
Miles said her mom started the gift-giving tradition more than 15 years ago, inspired by the help her family received when they encountered some hard times. “It was so important to her because she always remembered the nun who helped her get us kids gifts one Christmas when my dad wasn’t working.”
Barbara Nowakowski loved Christmas, Miles said. “From the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, she wore a Christmas shirt and bragged that she never had to wear the same shirt twice!”
Over the years, as the four Nowakowski kids grew up and had kids of their own, the family started helping their mom with the Christmas gift-giving to the needy.
She said a couple of people asked if they were going to continue the gift drive that their mom started. “We were like, of course we’re going to do it!”
Nowakowski began coordinating the helping hand program through a liaison named Dorothy, who prefers her last name not be used. Dorothy was working through the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Niagara Falls, at first, but then started working with her church and with God’s Woman outreach ministry in Niagara Falls.
Miles found Dorothy’s phone number, called her, told her that her mom had passed away and that the family would like to continue the program. “She was really happy to continue on doing this with us,” Miles said. “I’ve called her numerous times to get more names and more kids, and so far this year, we have 86 kids.”
Dorothy provides the names and ages and wish lists of the children who need a helping hand, and Miles and Saddler match donors with the children. The children’s parents fill out a sheet stating their needs, be it a coat, hat, gloves, underwear, pajamas, shirt, pants, “and then there’s one little thing for toys,” Miles said. “A lot of the things are like essential things that they need.
Miles is going to help revise the form for next year to include a little biographical information about the children who will receive the gifts.
“It’s always nice to know a little about the child. Like, if it’s a boy, do they like trucks, or do they like sports or do they like science or math?” she said.
“We call it Barb’s Butterfly Effect in hopes that this small thing will have a greater impact,” Miles said. “My mom loved her butterflies.”
She described the Butterfly Effect this way: “One person buys a little something and it becomes a bigger thing. We’re helping families and communities.” She said most of the young gift recipients are from Niagara Falls or the Tuscarora Nation in Niagara County.
Miles said Barb Sherman of the Grand Island Zonta Club got the word out to the women in that club, who have supported the program in the past. Nowakowski was a longtime member and former president of the Zonta Club.
Miles also got a strong response when she posted the information on Facebook, with a lot of first-timers signing up to help. “We’ve even gotten some people out of state who are mailing gifts to us.”
“If you would like to ‘adopt’ a child this Christmas, please reach out to us. If you want a specific age or gender, let us know. If you want a family, let us know that, as well. Please help us spread joy like my Mom always did!” Miles said.
Miles, Saddler and Miles’ daughter, Mercedes D’Orsaneo, have worked diligently to line up people to provide gifts, to double-check donations, organize and collect the items for the 86 children enrolled so far. But there are enough kids in need to bring the number of participants up to 100, if new donors respond to the call.