A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2002/March 2002
Santa In The Mountains

Photos by Dave Simmons

On the morning of December 22--the day of the Mercer County Foster Care Christmas Party and just three days before Christmas--trucks loaded with toys pulled up in front of the home of VVA's Blue-Gray Chapter 628 in Princeton, West Virginia.
     The call went out, and chapter members labored to transfer the crates and boxes into the chapter home. The quantity and variety of toys astounded those who gathered to help. Buzz Lightyear talking figures, inline skates, cases of stuffed animals, Lincoln logs, and collector sets of baseball cards were among the 3,500 toys that had been delivered to Chapter 628 be distributed to needy children in southern West Virginia foster care programs.
     "We were the last to be added to the NBC Today Show's list of charities,'' explained AVVA Region 3 Director Elaine Simmons. "So we were the last to receive things.'' But the toys arrived just in time: The foster care Chistmas party was that night. After VVA and AVVA members had unloaded the merchandise from the trucks and stacked it floor to ceiling, they sorted the toys according to age group and assembled gift bags for the children.
     They worked hard all day. And then, just like in the story books, the chapter members loaded up their vehicles and arrived without a moment to spare at the Gilbert Center to the delighted laughs and shrieks of the children. "We were exhausted but happy,'' said Elaine's husband, Dave. "And the kids were thrilled.''

 The collaboration with the Today Show was the brainchild of VVA member Rebecca Shumaker. Having worked in the region for many years as a social worker, she had watched other organizations benefit from corporate charity. In particular, she had watched the Salvation Army receive Christmas contributions from the Today Show and had thought, "VVA could do that.''
     Shumaker discovered, however, that VVA couldn't do that. But the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America could. The reason is the Today Show requires its recipients to have 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 status --like AVVA. VVA's tax status precluded it from participating.
 Photo by Dave Simmons

Karla, Michael, and Brandi Chandler (with AVVA member Phyliss Martin).

      So Shumaker talked to Elaine Simmons, and the two of them contacted AVVA President Nancy Switzer. Together they decided that the Associates of Chapter 628 would make this project a part of Project Friendship.
     They were stunned and delighted by the bounty. After distributing gifts all evening at the Christmas party, huge quantities remained. In addition to the Mercer County Foster Care Program, they contacted foster care services in neighboring McDowell and Wyoming Counties. A total of 297 children from the three counties benefited from AVVA's Christmas project.
     Even into February, trucks arrived. A truckload of denim clothing arrived from Old Navy. Cases of books and encyclopedias were sent from Encyclopedia Britannica. Sears and My Favorite Store were among the other corporate donors and toy manufacturers.
     The Today Show supported 120 charities during the Christmas season. Chapter 628's AVVA is the most recent addition to the list. "Once you're on the list,'' noted Simmons, "you stay on the list. But we hope that next year the trucks arrive a little earlier.''■


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