CLARENCE, N.Y. - There's one place no parent wants to spend Christmas. But Marlene Buffamonte found herself there in December of 2006 after her twin daughters were born after just 31 weeks.
"My daughters spent their first Christmas in intensive care at Children's Hospital," said Buffamonte. "It totally changed our lives forever. The holidays are completely different after our experience. You're there, watching your children fight for their lives."
The following year, with her twins healthy and happy, Marlene and another mom of premature twins brainstormed ways they could help new parents going through the nightmare they'd both experienced. Marlene and her friend Whitney Mendel knew it wasn't much, but they settled on using a little sugar to make life seem a little sweeter.
"I think it's a simple gesture, I mean food is always welcoming to most people and it brings people together," said Mendel.
They enlisted another mom, Robyn Swan, who Marlene met in the NICU, to help. Together they started baking Christmas cookies to deliver to Sisters Hospital and Women and Children's Hospitals on Christmas Eve. Each cookie they pass out comes wrapped, not in paper, but in a message of hope and support.
"I guess I would hope that it would bring some sense of normalcy," said Swan. "Somebody cares about you. And we realize that you're really struggling."
Now in its fifth year, "Operation NICU Cookie Drop-Off" has grown. Donations are greater each year. This year, more than 3,500 cookies will be sorted, placed into tins, And hand-delivered.
"Sometimes there's no words that are exchanged," said Swan. "And there's just lots of hugs and thank yous. I don't think any words need to be said for them to understand the reasons why we're there."
"That just makes my Christmas," said Buffamonte. "Being able to do this, we walk out of the hospitals and we're just, we just feel so good, and we remember those times that we had and how far we've come and, it's just my favorite part of Christmas."
The project can always use donations of money, baking supplies and especially Christmas Tins.
Donations can be dropped off at Swan's Martial Arts, 3234 Union Road in Cheektowaga.