Hundreds of families served during 37th annual Holiday Food & Toy Distribution

MORGANTOWN — For hundreds of families struggling to make ends meet this holiday season the West Virginia National Guard Readiness Center was one-stop Christmas shopping on Thursday during the 37th annual Holiday Food & Toy Distribution.

Of course there were toys. Lots of toys. Tables and tables of toys for kids of all ages. But there were also bikes, books, clothes, groceries and even goodies for four-legged family members.

Or, as United Way Family Resource Manager Jessica Staley described it, “Everything they need to make Christmas what they want it to be” — right down to the wrapping paper and batteries.

This year’s distribution, sponsored by the United Way of Mon and Preston Counties and Christian Help, was made possible by hundreds of volunteers and bolstered through partnerships with business and organizations like the  Mountaineer Food Bank, the Humane Society, Toys for Tots, Books-A-Million and Monongalia County Schools, among others.

“We’re serving about 550 families here today,” Staley said, noting that once late registrants were counted, the number of individuals impacted by the distribution would likely surpass 1,500.

One of the organizations volunteering time and talent to the cause is operating under the working title Spokes R’ Us. Inspired by Chicago-based workingbikes.org, Will Ravenscroft and Randy Youst brought 64 bikes — a few new, most refurbished — to be handed out. As of 2 p.m. or so they were down to about 30.

“We want to get rid of them. We want kids to enjoy them and use them. They still have life left in them and we’d rather see them go to a child than piled in a landfill,” Ravenscroft said, describing the satisfaction that comes when a child picks out a bike he and Youst have spent time fixing.

“It’s just the dream of them riding around town, having fun and enjoying an active life,” he said.

Richard Robison, president of the Christian Help Board of Directors and fifth-year distribution volunteer, said he’s always humbled by the generosity of the greater Morgantown community.

“It’s more than a sense of satisfaction. It’s also a realization that there are a lot of people in our community who desperately need these kind of services,” Robison said. “And the people who come are very much appreciative.”

Kelly Stevens certainly  is.

“I’ve got five kids of my own, three boys and two girls,” Stevens said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have Christmas.”

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