Be a Blessing Buffalo Spreads Christmas Joy

On Christmas Day 2018, Kate Tolley-Gerlach’s father, John Tolley, awoke with an epiphany. “My father woke up on Christmas morning and said, ‘This is insane. We are losing the fact that this day is about Jesus,’” recalled Tolley-Gerlach. While the family chose to still give small gifts to one another, they decided that rather than focusing on their own gifting, they would adopt a local family in need.

That Christmas, the Tolley’s adopted a struggling family and never looked back. “The family we adopted moved out of a shelter into housing and are doing really well,” shared Tolley-Gerlach. “All these years later, we still see them and adopt them every Christmas.” Her dad was overjoyed. “He said, ‘Aren’t you just so much more fulfilled?’” Tolley-Gerlach said. Little did they realize Be a Blessing Buffalo, previously Christmas Blessing Buffalo, was born.

Sadly, John Tolley passed away in his sleep the following June. Tolley-Gerlach could not imagine giving back at Christmas without him. “I told my mom I couldn’t do it,” she said. “She said that since Christmas is all about giving back, how could we not do it?”


So, Kate Tolley-Gerlach, her mother, and her sisters, Courtney and Abby Tolley, began to plan. Mrs. Tolley worked at a mission in Buffalo, so they decided to start by calling homeless shelters. “No one chooses homelessness,” shared Tolley-Gerlach. “People do the best they can with the cards they are dealt.”

Then 2020 brought the Covid-19 pandemic and new challenges. People were unemployed or working with a lot less income, and suddenly, they found themselves in need of help. Unsurprisingly, holiday need was at an all-time high, and Be a Blessing Buffalo (then Christmas Blessing Buffalo) rose to the occasion.


Working with Code Blue of WNY, Be a Blessing Buffalo filled 175 backpacks on December 23rd with necessities—hats, gloves, gift cards for food, and more—for both men and women. The newly christened nonprofit also purchased gifts for 250 struggling men, women, and children. “A lot of people we helped you would never know were in need just by looking with the naked eye,” said Tolley-Gerlach. “There were families facing adversity that had never had to ask for help before. Now, a lot of those families have made it through and are asking to adopt families themselves!”

Be a Blessing Buffalo will need every one of those families and more to reach their goal of helping over 1,000 local people in need this Christmas, including those with Code Blue of WNY. “This will be our biggest push ever! We are going to start our GoFundMe during Thanksgiving, and we’re partnering with at least 30 local businesses,” said Tolley-Gerlach. Partner businesses host bins and often offer perks like discounted classes and specials for donations.

Sweet Buffalo has supported the charity since its inception in 2019. Owner Kimberly LaRussa shares a personal connection to the nonprofit. “She is best friends with my dad’s childhood best friend’s daughter!” shared Tolley-Gerlach. While businesses play a crucial role, every person and family is important.

Be a Blessing Buffalo gifts are funded by donations and purchased from the wishlists of children in need who are “adopted,” often as whole families. The wishlists come from everywhere—local teachers, the community, homeless shelters, organizations supporting children with terminal illnesses, and other organizations serving those in need. They share the child’s first name, age, what they love, what they really wish they could have, and more. “We filled thousands of carts, and every time a list would come in, we were able to get the items on it…multiple gifts per child!” shared Tolley-Gerlach.

“Our friends and family and our community are literally incredible!” she continued, noting Buffalo is called the City of Good Neighbors. “Last year, my small house in North Buffalo was so full of donations we couldn’t walk in it. My husband and dog had to stay at my in-laws’ house, and we were literally wrapping gifts on my outdoor deck in December!”

In the face of success, Kate Tolley-Gerlach, an event planner and organizer, remains humble. “God has given me a gift; I am a vessel,” she explained. “We are a faith-based organization, and my family and I do what we do on earth to make our Father proud. I saw the other side of life through what my parents allowed me to see. Now, we are here to help anyone who needs it.”


Giving has made a lasting impact on Tolley-Gerlach. “It still makes me emotional when I think of all the little Thank You cards we have received,” she said. “The gratitude of a child old enough to realize that their mother is nervous about Christmas…those children who—on their whole wishlist—just ask for something to give their mom…those are the ones that stick with you.


Be a Blessing Buffalo plans to begin adopting children for their birthdays as well, giving each child a cake and a gift. This Christmas and in its future endeavors, Gerlach-Tolley believes there is only one way to reach these goals. “The only way Be a Blessing has ever worked is as a community,” she said. “Every donation, every dollar matters. We just want to thank the Buffalo community because without them, this would not have been possible!”


For more information, to donate, or to recommend a family in need,

visit beablessingbuffalo.com, call 716-548-8431, or email beablessingbuffalo@gmail.com