By Tina Alvey
Prompted by growing need in the communities it serves, Rainelle Medical Center’s annual holiday party is casting a much wider net this year.
Teaming up with generous supporters like the town of Rainelle, Kroger, WTNJ radio and the West Virginia State Police, Rainelle Medical Center (RMC) has hosted the party for local children in need for the past three years. The party not only provides gifts for each child attending, but also offers the opportunity for people to come together and share food, entertainment and that all-important visit from Santa Claus.
While 171 families received a boost from last year’s party, RMC will expand the event exponentially this December, helping approximately 780 families ensure their children have a memorable Christmas.
RMC’s Mary Surbaugh, one of the event’s organizers, explains that a poor local economy, coupled with funding cutbacks for social service agencies, left many more families with limited resources this holiday season.
Right from the Start and Parents as Teachers used to be able to give extra help to clients at Christmas, but when CASEWV (Community Action South Eastern West Virginia) pulled out of western Greenbrier County due to government funding cuts, RMC added 357 families to the party’s guest list, according to Surbaugh. Another 50 families were added from RMC’s Alderson satellite clinic.
In order to accommodate the number of people expected to attend this year’s event, the party will be spread out over three days — Dec. 20, from 3 to 7 p.m.; Dec. 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Dec. 22, from 1 to 4 p.m.
“This is a monumental undertaking,” Surbaugh acknowledges.
“It’s basically a community effort; everybody gets involved,” she adds.
Among those participating, co-sponsor WTNJ is planning to give the invited families fruit baskets this year, with the help of Rainelle Police Chief J.P. Stevens. Also, Surbaugh says tentative plans call for the Greenbrier West High School football team to help unload donated toys expected to arrive at RMC in time for volunteers to wrap and organize according to gender and age of intended recipients.
Providing transport for the toys, which are still being donated by individuals, organizations and businesses, will be an official NASCAR tractor-trailer provided for the event by United Parcel Service (UPS). The trailer will be on display in the RMC parking lot from Dec. 16-20 to help draw attention to the holiday party.
The involvement of UPS in the party goes well beyond the loan of a truck, however, as this year’s event is being held in memory of Jonathan Thomas, Rainelle’s own UPS driver, who died in a tragic on-the-job incident June 15, 2012.
Thomas had finished his day’s pick-ups and deliveries in Rainelle and was headed back to the UPS center in Caldwell that day when he was stung by a bee and went into anaphylactic shock. When he apparently lost consciousness, his UPS truck left the roadway and struck a house, killing the 30-year-old Thomas instantly.
More than 1,500 people attended the services following his death, many waiting in line for hours to pay their respects. Throughout the visitation, his parents heard accounts of Jonathan’s kindness and generosity.
“I knew he gave, but I never really got the magnitude of how much,” Thomas’ mother said. “I had no idea of the extent or frequency of his giving. I’m so proud of him. I love hearing these stories about how he helped people.”
Organizers hope this year’s Rainelle holiday party will suitably honor the memory of this young man.
“Hopefully, people will follow the example Jonathan set and give what they can comfortably give,” said Thomas’ fiancée, Angela Gilkerson. “This is such a worthy cause; it benefits children in our own area. Having this event in honor of Jonathan really speaks volumes about how much he meant to his community.”
Toys (preferably new) and monetary contributions are still being accepted, with the cutoff for toys only set for Dec. 9. Donations may be mailed to RMC, Attn.: Children’s Holiday Event, 624 Kanawha Ave., Rainelle, WV 25962, or dropped off at the clinic.
For more information, call Mary Surbaugh at 304-438-6188, ext. 1078.
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