Editor's note: This article is the first of The Inter-Mountain's Comfort & Joy series, which runs in the 12 editions prior to Christmas.
Catholic Charities West Virginia is coming to the close of another year of providing assistance to local residents. Regional Director Cindy Hammer said she thinks giving makes people feel more connected with their community.
Hammer said those who are giving are receiving as well.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Volunteers have fun while helping others at Catholic Charities West Virginia. Luis Torrores and Rose Charney unpack food donations Monday in preparation for residents coming for assistance.
"Our clients are very thankful for the food and help they receive," Hammer said. "But I think donors receive as much through giving as those who receive."
Catholic Charities West Virginia was formed in Elkins in 1985, following that year's catastrophic flood. Father William Anderson, pastor of St. Brendan Catholic Church at the time, helped open the organization with the hope of helping folks in need receive food.
Catholic Charities is gearing up for two big events. The first is to help fill the 80 angel tree requests received this year, and the second is setting up a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site.
"The angels come from Helping Hand Clearing House," Hammer said. "We try to give a ham or turkey to the families of those on the angel tree."
"The VITA program helps people fill out their tax forms for free with Internal Revenue Service certified volunteers," Hammer said. "We are very excited to be offering this program in the area."
Hammer said the tax assistance is available to families with less than $50,000 in income. The program is available by appointment and is open from late January through April 15.
Dedicated volunteers are at the heart of Catholic Charities West Virginia.
"We have wonderful volunteers who are very dedicated to their work," Hammer said. "They are always here for their shifts, and we all have a great time."
Hammer said many folks requested assistance through the year.
"The amount of clients we helped is up about 20 percent this year, and we are now serving an average of 350 families per month," Hammer said. "We have also faced more needs due to the storms in June and October."
During the storm, Hammer said Catholic Charities received turkeys from a local market. They passed some of those along to shelters at Camp Pioneer and Belington to help feed those in need.
Other upcoming activities planned for Catholic Charities include a Crock-Pot Cook-off in March, a race for hope in April, Easter baskets and Thanksgiving baskets. Along with food donations, Catholic Charities West Virginia offers emergency assistance with utilities, gasoline vouchers for out-of-town doctor appointments and help with medication.
"No money is exchanged for these services," Hammer said. "We pay the utilities directly to the utility company. Vouchers are offered for medicines and the monies are sent directly to the pharmacies when they bill us."
Hammer said many folks worked hard throughout the year to gather food and donations.
"Different church groups, civic organizations and individuals have made donations to Catholic Charities through the year," Hammer said. "Elkins Rotary member Amy Schumacher started a food drive with the schools which helped in a great time of need following the October storm. The school students were very generous.
"The 4-H Clubs in our area held a campaign for gathering non-perishable items called Kids 4 Hunger," Hammer said. "Rotary also gave us money from their tin cup collection, and the Presbyterian Church donated part of a free-will donation during a Jack Gibbons concert. St. Brendan and St. Patrick's Catholic Churches helped Catholic Charities collect and assemble more than 350 Thanksgiving baskets this year."
Workers at Elkins Walmart are getting into the spirit of giving.
"Currently at Elkins Walmart, associates are paying $1 to wear jeans on Friday and Saturday, and paying $2 to wear Christmas shirts," Hammer said. "So if you go to Walmart and see an associate in jeans and a Christmas shirt, be sure to thank them for their donation to help support neightbors through Catholic Charities West Virginia."
The Elkins location of Catholic Charities West Virginia is the model program for Wellness Works, which offers clients sugar-free, low sodium and lower fat foods.
"We have been invited to present the Wellness Works program at the Catholic Charities USA meeting," Hammer said. "We are also doing a webinar on the program in January where we will reach out to more than 300 people speaking about offering clients healthy and more nutritional food choices."
Catholic Charities is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon. More information about Catholic Charities West Virginia is available by calling 304-636-4875. Their office is located in Elkins at 103 Randolph Avenue.