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Area charities get holiday boost, but their work is year-round

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For John Roberts, 2013 has been a struggle.

Roberts, director of the nonprofit Mountain Mission on Charleston's West Side, said his agency saw a decrease in donations this year. That, coupled with an increase in requests, means that Mountain Mission has had to turn people away -- something he said he never likes to do.

"It was a tough year for us. It's hard to look at a person and say, 'I'm sorry, but because of a dollar, or lack thereof, I can't do this for you,'" he said. "Sometimes we just have to, because we have to be here tomorrow; we have to so we can be here in the long-term, to help more families in the future."

The holiday season was still a success for the mission, though -- the agency was able to shore up enough money and in-kind donations to feed more than 1,300 families more than $100,000 worth of food for Christmas dinner.

"We prepare months in advance, and have several food drives and collections that make it possible," Roberts said. "It's great -- tiring, but very rewarding."

By mid-January, donations start to drop off, and usually don't pick up again until September, Roberts said, but regular donors and volunteers keep Mountain Mission going during that time.

"I think when things are going well, when the sun is shining and the storms are at bay, that sometimes we just take for granted that the whole world is OK," Roberts said. "And the fact is that there are storms of life that affect people every day, and one way to help people through those storms is to support organizations that do it every day."

The mission also operates two thrift stores and offers assistance with paying utilities, getting medications, medical assistance and medical transportation. It also has joined with Dollar Energy in its programs, which partner with utility companies to offer discounted rates to low-income customers.

"People don't choose to lose their job; people don't choose to have a reduction in salary; they don't choose to get sick," Roberts said. "We've dealt with people who've lost their jobs because they've received the news that they have cancer and need treatment. Where are they supposed to turn?"

According to Roberts, Mountain Mission has its own New Year's resolution, too -- to increase its volunteer base and encourage more companies to support the agency in 2014.

"We're working on establishing a volunteer rotation and having our volunteers work a certain number of hours a month, and creating our own appreciation dinner for our volunteers, because they give so much of their time," he said. "It would be sponsored by a business, hopefully, and we're working on orchestrating that right now."

Most charities and social service agencies see a jump in donations around the holidays. That includes the YWCA, one of Charleston's oldest and largest nonprofit organizations, which has a steady stream of donors year-round but sees a marked increase around Christmas and New Year's, according to communications director PK Khoury.

"I think they [regular donors] think about us all the time, whether they donate to our used- furniture store, Second Seating, or Past and Present, our gently used clothing shop -- even around the Fourth of July, when people have barbeques, they'll bring us their leftovers," Khoury said. "They do it after New Year's, too -- people who cook too much food or even cook something extra for the people in our shelters."

The YWCA operates multiple shelters across the region, including the Sojourner's shelter for women and children, the Shanklin Center for senior enrichment geared toward victims of elder abuse, and Hope House for victims of domestic abuse and violence. According to Khoury, while Sojourner's numbers are constant during the year, the Hope House sees a greater number of people after the holidays are over.

The agency had 54 percent fewer filings for its Hope House in December of last year than previous months. However, its Resolve Center, which allows monitored visitation for those involved in domestic violence legal battles, saw a 26 percent increase in visits.

"We have this 'peacekeeper' phenomenon," she said. "It's almost a syndrome, where the victim of abuse will try to keep everything nice and calm -- ostensibly -- for the children over the holidays. Then, when the holidays are over, we see a large number of people come into our shelter."

The YWCA received many generous donations this year, including from the Energy Corporation Center of America, which provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the Shanklin Center, and from Saint Francis Hospital's Domestic Violence Committee, which provided 34 boxes of needed items to the YWCA.

"I think our volunteers and our donors are sensitive to the fact that we have families struggling with big issues, and they try to make their holidays a little brighter," she said.

While the YWCA has benefited from the community's generosity, it is always in need of monetary donations, especially for its Sojourner's shelter, which sees more than 60 people every day.

"Every day is a busy day at Sojourner's, but at holidays, we like to create a festive atmosphere, especially for the children," said Margaret Taylor, program director for Sojourner's. "We're so grateful to our donors and supporters for the extra gifts and food that they provide during the holidays."

The Hope House and its Resolve Center did see a decrease in donations from last year, which Khoury believes might be because of monetary constraints on donors. Hope House still needs clothing donations for women and children and food for those using the Resolve monitored-visitation center.

Donations to Mountain Mission can be made online at, as well as at its main office at 1620 Seventh Ave., on the West Side. The agency also will pick up in-kind donations and can be reached at 304-344-3407. To learn more about the YWCA and its programs, visit or call 304-340-3594.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at or 304-348-5189.


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