The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 6, 2012

Christmas drive to benefit Fayette food pantries

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — In broad daylight, Santa Claus and friends took a county commissioner, sheriff and state delegate “hostage” across from the Fayette County Courthouse.

But it was all in good fun, and for a good cause.

One by one, the officials were hoisted up in a cherry picker until 1,000 cans of food could be secured for their release.

The spectacle was orchestrated by WQAZ’s Tom Syner and the New Haven Christmas Project in an effort to fill Fayette County’s empty food pantries and stuff stockings with presents for needy children in time for the holidays.

Syner is camping out at the Fayetteville Baptist Church’s Crew Center in downtown Fayetteville for the next six days, broadcasting the project live on Fayette Community Television and WQAZ 98.5 FM from his portable TV station. Organizers hope to fill a truck with food and presents between now and Fayetteville’s Christmas Parade on Saturday.

“This is something that’s going to make a difference,” says Syner. “I’m going to sleep here and camp here until we finish. People at home can stay informed and watch this thing. We hope they will feel inspired to run down to the store and get a can of food and bring it down.”

The Fayetteville High School band struck up a rendition of “Jingle Bells” as Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender was raised up in a cherry picker on loan from Glen’s Towing.

“The catch is that Matt Wender will not come down until 1,000 cans are donated. It might be 10 minutes, it might be 10 days,” Fayetteville Mayor Jim Akers told the listening public. He and others provided live coverage of the event.

Fire trucks and police cruisers parked nearby, drawing even more attention as the drama unfolded on Court Street.

Much to Wender’s relief, a truck from Walmart showed up with 10,000 cans of food an hour later.

Other local dignitaries will to take their turn in the cherry picker throughout the week. National Guard troops have volunteered to do the late shift.

For 7 years, the New Haven Christmas project has worked to give low-income families a cheerful holiday. Every child in New Haven district, regardless of income, takes home a letter about the project.

“If someone needs help, they send us a letter back and we call and give them a time to come pick out presents,” says Rick Lewis, chair of the New Haven Christmas Project.

Volunteers gather and wrap presents before inviting families to come choose a gift from the collection — kids shop for their parents, and vice versa. Last year 1,500 people were served by the project.

Area stores like Walmart, Lowe’s and King Coal Chevrolet have all promised donations, and Syner believes that more will come forward as excitement over the event builds throughout the week.

“All this is donations only by churches, businesses and organizations. We have a lot of support,” says Lewis.

“If you could see their faces, you would know why people volunteer. It’s the kids. Sometimes you can hand them the littlest thing and you’d think you just handed them a million dollars,” says Libby Campbell, a local volunteer who helped coordinate the event.

Lewis says this year’s storms have put a financial burden on families, even those with working parents. Between fuel for generators and replacing spoiled food, budgets are tight.

“It just creates a sense of urgency to help someone,” he says.

The holiday season is also a time when the county’s food pantries empty out, prompting the need for extra food drives.

Syner organized similar events in Charleston when he was promotions manager for WCHS, but this year’s partnership with the New Haven Christmas Project is a first.

“We really feel like it will help this project tremendously,” says Lewis. “Hopefully we’ll get enough to help other projects as well.”

Joann Brewer came downtown to watch her granddaughter and niece perform in the band.

“I think it’s really great,” she says. “There’s a lot of people who would be doing without this Christmas, and you can help out.”

Donations of food and toys can be dropped off at the Crew Center (across from the Fayette County Courthouse on Court Street) at any hour for the remainder of this week. Other dropoff locations include the Dollar General in Ansted, the Gino’s in Fayetteville and Wild Flour Bakery in Fayetteville.

Keep abreast of the latest developments in the holiday hostage crisis by tuning in to WQAZ Fayette Community Television on channel 4 (Suddenlink customers in Fayetteville, Oak Hill, Mount Hope and Beckley area), channel 6 (Shentel customers), or channel 17 (Suddenlink customers in Gauley Bridge and Montgomery area).

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com