By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It’s 3:40 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, a time when I’m normally in a meeting with reporters and copy editors going over the A-1 lineup for the Saturday, Sunday and Monday editions of the Daily Telegraph. But this day is different. Instead of debating the merits of various stories I find myself staring into the big, brown eyes of a 1-year-old boy.
He sits quietly while cradled in his mother’s arms, gazing about ever so often at the activity in the youth center of the Bluefield Auditorium. I smile at him from across the table. He responds with a wary look. Fair enough. I am, after all, a stranger — one who is hurriedly checking paperwork and jotting down stats on him and his two older siblings.
It’s my second year of participating in registrations for the Daily Telegraph’s Community Christmas Tree program. And, once again, I am overwhelmed by the need for assistance many in our region are experiencing.
The Community Christmas Tree program is one of the area’s most enduring and well-known charities. Started by the Daily Telegraph in 1917, it has withstood the test of time, propelled forward year after year by incredible support from community donors and an army of volunteers.
The campaign is best known as the Little Jimmie program, a reference to an iconic drawing that has accompanied the campaign kickoff since those early days. The drawing, which appears on A-1 today, shows an impoverished girl and boy looking at empty stockings and a sparse Christmas tree with no gifts underneath. The boy is told, “Ats all right Jimmie. Maybe he’ll come nex’ Chris’mas.”
It’s an image that tugs at the heartstrings — just like the faces of the children in the youth center a week ago during the first day of registration.
There’s an inside joke among those who work behind the scenes with the Little Jimmie campaign: “Volunteer once and you’re signed up for life.” It’s an adage that proves true year after year. If there’s any doubt, check in with long-time volunteers Don Whitt, Don Rice, Delores French, Jim Dent, Charlie Cole, W.D. Hasty, Michele Colley, Larry Hypes and Chaz Cole.
These faithful Community Christmas Tree volunteers are joined year after year by an army of new recruits — folks such as myself, Lynn and Carl Burnette, A.J. Robinson and judge Omar Aboulhosn. Although we all have a few years under our belts, in a program as old as Little Jimmie one needs to volunteer for at least a decade before shedding the “green” label.
Also key to the success of the program are the number of Bluefield High School students who assist. Many students are volunteer shoppers, and the football and basketball players always help out with the set up for the party and on the day of the event.
When discussing Community Christmas Tree volunteers, one has to note Zoe and Erika Colley — two young ladies who have the distinction of being life-long volunteers.
Zoe and Erika are the granddaughters of my mentor, the late Telegraph Executive Editor Tom Colley, who spearheaded the Little Jimmie campaign for decades. The two children began appearing at Community Christmas Tree events from the time they were born, and they now help out with registration, shopping and gift giving on the day of the party.
There is no way the Little Jimmie campaign could take place without the support from the community volunteers. But there are other volunteers who also deserve credit, those within the Daily Telegraph family.
Every employee at the newspaper volunteers with the Community Christmas Tree in one way or another. From answering phone calls about the campaign to transporting decorations for the party, Little Jimmie is part of the Telegraph culture. Publisher Darryl Hudson, Advertising Director Terri Hale, Business Manager Rhonda Watson and Circulation Director Chuck Sullins, and their many employees, all give of their time to the campaign each year.
Telegraph Copy Coordinator Sue Richmond is another long-time volunteer whose contributions must be noted. Sue is one of the guiding forces behind the campaign, and the one who gives me nudges and assistance to ensure the program is kept on track.
Senior Editor Bill Archer is another Little Jimmie veteran. Bill does an incredible job coordinating the entertainment for the party, and helps out in many other roles.
Assistant Managing Editor Charles Owens and Lifestyles Editor Jamie Parsell also deserve a Little Jimmie shout-out.
Each November and December Charles quietly and efficiently picks up additional editorial responsibilities so that I can focus more time on the campaign. And Jamie is the best for taking on last-minute duties — “We need a list of must-have toys!” — while also keeping me grounded when I start to have one of my Little Jimmie panic moments.
Today, the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Community Christmas Tree campaign officially kicks off. It is a day when we ask readers of the newspaper who are in a position to give to donate to the campaign so that children who are in less-fortunate circumstances are ensured of a merry Christmas.
We know times are tight, and that many in our region are still struggling from the Great Recession. But we also know the need is great in our community.
Years ago, when in discussions about the Little Jimmie campaign, my mentor and editor Tom would always sum it up in one succinct phrase: “It’s about the children.”
I thought about that a lot last week.
When driving back to the office after the first day of sign-ups, my mind wasn’t on A-1 stories or weekend events for reporters to cover. Instead, I was remembering the big, brown eyes of a 1-year-old boy. A boy who wants a Vtech Sit n’ Play Learning Center for Christmas.
With your help, and an army of community volunteers, we can make it happen.
Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @BDTPerry.