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Church program helps hundreds of needy families at Christmas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Teenagers and adults gathered at the Good Shepherd Mission Church in Coalburg on Thursday to distribute Christmas baskets and, as I like to say, a little hope.

The baskets help needy families in the area by giving them the basics for a Christmas dinner and, for those with kids, some toys to put under the tree. On average, this helps nearly 300 families.

The program was started more than 30 years ago by Ann Christian and her daughter, Elizabeth. The first year, they helped three needy families in Cabin Creek. This continued for about five years, until two women, Sister Claurice and Sister Elizabeth, moved from Massachusetts. The bishop sponsored them, helping them with money and planning, and they were able to help more people.

The program has come a long way from where it started. For instance, toys weren't always included in the baskets. Then, Betty Bannister, who plans the program, started going to yard sales and buying toys for fifty cents. Clothes and other items were sold to raise money to buy more toys.

When Columbia Gas employees got involved, they began collecting toys six weeks before the baskets were distributed. This year, they had a 20-foot U-Haul full of toys -- enough for 350 to 400 kids.

Preparing the baskets is a long process. Planning for the next year starts the day after this year's baskets are delivered.

Over the years, different churches and organizations have come together to help with this program. The Montgomery/Boomer Knights of Columbus Council, Columbia Gas employees, Riverside High School ROTC, South Charleston's Blessed Sacrament Church and the Capital High School National Honor Society are just a few of many that have played an important part over the years.

Bill Christian, son of Ann, grew up in Cabin Creek and knows the needs of the people. "I'm privileged enough, and I just want to help other people have Christmas," he said.

Christian is also a Columbia Gas employee and one of the people who helped get the company involved with the Christmas basket program. He moved to Virginia at the beginning of December but drove back here on Thursday just to help give the baskets out.

Overall, it was a good day. Cold, but good. Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., we helped more than 200 families. I saw a lot of the same faces helping out, which, to me, is good. It shows the importance of giving back to the community when it's in need.


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