By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Every area charity is a noble effort and each benefits someone. One of the greatest, though, remains the Community Christmas Tree sponsored by the Daily Telegraph. After 95 years, it is the oldest and most effective at reaching area children. Having been allowed to volunteer for more than 20 years, I can reinforce again how wonderful it is to see little boys and girls of all sizes, shapes, colors, and backgrounds glow with happiness when they see their treat container brought forth from the great rows of bright red bags lined up out at the city auditorium.
When the Tree program first opened its giving arms to local children, America had just entered World War I some seven months earlier. There was no local high school football, trolleys still ran in town, a great many area residents either rode the train or traveled by horseback, and a majority of the citizens outside the cities and towns had no electricity.
We just celebrated Veterans Day and the Community Christmas Tree program predates even that. President Woodrow Wilson first proposed an Armistice Day in 1919 and it was several years later that Veterans Day became an official holiday. Two of the finest area traditions include the Tree program and the celebrated Welch Veterans Day parade, which is recognized as one of the finest of its kind anywhere. Yet the Tree program is even older than the parade. Both come together in a matter of weeks to close every year with a fitting presentation to so many who deserve the salute.
Your donations are combined with a sincere effort from every worker beginning here at the editorial offices and continuing with those who register eligible families, the outstanding “shoppers” who team up to take requests and then match the right gifts so that — as much as possible — the little ones get a holiday gift they will enjoy. As in past years, the Community Christmas Tree campaign will officially kick off on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving with the names of the campaign donors being published on the front page of the newspaper each day, as well as online on http://bdtonline.com. Don Rice and the workers perform flawlessly to orchestrate the show. We have local high school coaches and athletes who volunteer their time to help carry fruits, toboggans, gloves, candy, toys, presents, etc.
Civic groups join in. Charley Cole and his workers are dedicated transporters who move the goodies from local store shelves to the distribution area.
A special part of every Tree campaign is the musical portion where veteran entertainers like the legendary Don Whitt spread holiday cheer and make more magical memories for those of us who grew up listening to the Swing Kings, and the great entertainers from old WHIS-TV perform for the crowds.
Those shows used to be in downtown theatres and were also held at the Ramsey Street School before moving to the present location on Stadium Drive. No matter where the occasion takes place, it is still a terrific part of the outstanding overall effort.
From the late Hugh Ike Shott, Sr. to present publisher Darryl Hudson and editor Samantha Perry, one standing rule has always been observed — every penny is carefully directed to making this program a treat for the children. There is no overhead. Volunteers do not take money for their work and the materials are generously supplied by vendors who make every effort to provide the goods at a discount. Aside from the actual joy of the kiddies themselves, that just might be the most amazing part of the entire program. It restores one’s faith in human nature every year to see how selfless the organizers are. Great people.
You, the readers and givers, are the power behind it. The newspaper leaders years ago understood that for the Community Christmas Tree to be a success, it would have to be a true area project. Having everybody in our section of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia be a part of it has been the key to success. What a great idea it was and that sound beginning has carried forward for almost a century. The famed cartoon with Little Jimmie and his sister is one of the most famous pieces to appear in the pages of this newspaper. Along with the tradition of printing the great New York Sun editorial item first printed on September 21, 1897 and written by Francis P. Church of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” it is eagerly looked forward to every Yuletide.
There is no doubt you will come through again and as always, you will be blessed for your participation.
You will probably help a child you don’t know and may never meet. Those acts of random kindness rank near the top of the list. Of all the gifts you may be planning to give this year, few will outshine what you do for the children.
Little Jimmie and his friends thank you in advance.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.