Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Generous contributions and hardworking volunteers came together Saturday afternoon and delivered hundreds of red bags filled with Christmas joy during the annual Community Christ-mas Tree party.
After everything was organized, 803 gift bags were waiting at the Herb Sims Youth Center on Stadium Drive when families started arriving for the party. Slightly fewer than 800 children had been registered, said Editor Samantha Perry of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. It was the 94th annual party organized by the newspaper. The program is also known to many as Little Jimmie.
Months of preparation and fundraising went into making the party a reality. Volunteers quickly made last minute preparations while children and their families waited in the gymnasium. Music could be heard through the closed doors as musicians performed for the crowd.
The Rev. W.D. Hasty, who serves on the Community Christmas Tree’s advisory board and helps the Bluefield Rotary Club’s shopping team, calculated he had worked at the party for 15 or 16 years. Hasty started helping at the parties when the late Executive Editor Tom Colley asked him.
“He’s the one who got me involved,” Hasty said. “And I get to help give it away, which is my reward.”
Volunteer Don Rice and his wife, Zane, had helped at the party more than 15 years, too.
“I worked in the toy industry before I retired, so I have a soft spot for toys and children,” he said. He now aligns the long rows of toy bags so they can be distributed efficiently. Each line represented an age group, and each bag was numbered for a waiting boy or girl.
After the Rev. Hasty led the volunteers in prayer, everyone went to their stations. Tall young men on the Bluefield High School varsity basketball team were ready to distribute the gift bags along with coaches Tony Webster, Don Jones, Dave Hubbard and Buster Large.
“We enjoy coming here,” Large said. “This is our sixth year. It’s a great community event sponsored by the Telegraph and community leaders. They (athletes) like to give back to the community. It’s goodwill to a lot of people.”
The team had played a game Friday evening and was prepared to play another one Saturday, but this didn’t keep the team from helping local children.
“It’s really important for our kids to be involved in the community,” Webster said. “The community really supports our kids. When we won the state championship last year, the community was with us. This is the least we can do to give back.”
Jordan Huckleberry, a junior on the BHS team, said volunteering helped the team maintain its chemistry. The party was also a good opportunity to set a good example for local children.
“There are a lot of kids who look up to us, so we want to do anything to help the kids,” he said.
Magistrate Jim Dent remembered his first Little Jimmie party in 1963. He had recently joined the Bluefield Police Department when Chief Bill Winters assigned him to work at the party hosted at Ramsey School. Bluefield Police officers were at Saturday’s party.
“I enjoyed it so much, I kept going,” Dent said.
Sisters Kaitlyn and Kelliann Smith – Kaitlyn represented by Bluefield High School cheerleaders and Kelliann represented the Bluefield Middle School cheerleaders – said seeing the children get the toys was the best part of the party.
“I guess it makes us feel like we made their Christmas,” Kaitlyn said just before the families started to arrive.
Members of the East River Street Rods helped distribute gift bags, too, said Russell H. Nunley, the club’s president. Seeing the results of the fundraising and preparations was special, he added.
“The best part is meeting the kids and the families, and just doing God’s work. It’s what we should be doing,” Nunley said.
Volunteer Deloris French could not remember exactly when she started working with the Community Christmas Tree, but she always remembers the results.
“It’s wonderful just to be here and see the expressions on the faces of the children and the volunteers,” French said. “They enjoy it as much as the children.” Her grandson, 12-year-old Raymond Brown, was helping at the party for the second time.
Local musicians including Don Whitt, Larry Gilpin, Keith Pennington, Mark Pennington, Melissa Simpson, Jerry Neal and John Mooney of the Little Jimmie Band entertained the families while they waited to receive the stuffed gift bags. Local Daily Telegraph reporter Bill Archer and fellow musician Karl Miller also entertained the guests, and sports reporter Tom Bone joined Archer for a duet.
Whitt had to stop and think when he was asked how long he had been performing at Community Christmas Tree parties. He thought his first show was in 1958.
“I just enjoy doing it,” Whitt said as his fellow musicians tuned their instruments. “I just enjoy being with my friends, making music and entertaining.”
Parents waiting in line said they did not know what they would do for Christmas if it were not for the Community Christmas Tree. Nikki Johnson of Glenwood said she was grateful to the donors and volunteers.
“Thank you. They do a good job and they do a lot of good for little kids,” she said.
Outside the youth center, children could hardly wait to look inside their gift bags.
Roger Atwell, 4, was reluctant to talk, but he smiled and nodded when his mother, Brittany Atwell of Bluefield, asked if he liked his new Hot Wheels cars. And his sister, 5-year-old Carolynn, had a new doll to call her own.
Samantha Jane Huffman, 3, of Tazewell, Va. peeked into her red bag while her mother, Amanda, watched. When asked if she liked her presents, Samantha Jane had a quick response.
“Yes!” she said with a smile. She tried carrying her Christmas treasures, but they were a little too heavy, so her mother helped carry them home.�