Volunteers unloaded bags of Christmas cheer and arranged them in neat rows Thursday so everything will be ready today’s big event, the annual Bluefield Daily Telegraph Little Jimmie Christmas Party.
The Little Jimmie party gets underway at noon today in the city auditorium on Stadium Drive in Bluefield. Weeks of preparations will be coming to a conclusion.
Volunteers from the Bluefield High School’s football team went to a trailer parked in front of the Bluefield Auditorium and unloaded red gift bags by the armload. Then they started checking each bag’s number and getting it lined up with the many others waiting for local children.
Before that moment Thursday morning, other BHS students, this time from the school’s Honors Society with advisor Anna Lilly, went Christmas shopping for children ages newborn to 4 years old, said longtime volunteer Delores French.
“They came a little after 7 (a.m.) and they were finished and able to go to school by 9,” French said.
Another longtime volunteer, Charlie Cole of Bluefield, and his four sons, were helping along with others who have helped organize the Little Jimmie party for almost 20 years or more.
“We’ve got a bunch of veterans here,” Cole said. “They keep everything going. I think some of us are going on about 24 years.”
Volunteer W.D. Hasty tried calculating how long he had been working on the Christmas party. “I probably started in ’95 when I was in Rotary,” he said.
Many of the volunteers became long-time helpers for Little Jimmie after the late Tom Colley, the Daily Telegraph’s executive editor, asked them if they would like to participate.
“He asked me if I would like to help two or three days before the party,” Cole recalled. “I love doing it.” He laughed. “When you start, it’s like being on the Supreme Court. It’s a lifetime appointment.”
For the football players, working with Little Jimmie is an annual community service project.
“We do it every year,” said football player Jeff Jones. “It gives back to the community and helps kids who are less fortunate.”
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” added his teammate, Ryan Shorter. “I play basketball, too. In any sports at Bluefield High School, we try to give back to the community.”
“Every kid should have something for Christmas or have something to unwrap,” Jones said.
Another member of the football team, Kayla York, said she wants to keep helping with Little Jimmie after she graduates.
“I would love to because I think it’s good to be able to help people out. Not everyone gets the same as other people,” she said.
Aaron Gillespie, a 2010 graduate of Graham High School, started helping the party when his school’s Beta Club was recruited. He has continued to help since that time.
“When you see the kids, you can see ‘I’m getting a present’ in their eyes. It’s an instant smile,” he said.
Another Graham High School graduate, Allyson Scruggs, said a member of her church, First Baptist Church, invited her to help. She recalled what her brother, Andrew, witnessed after he helped shop for Christmas gifts. He had found a skateboard for one boy.
“I think the funniest thing I have ever witnessed was a little boy who got his skateboard. He said, ‘Mom, I just got a skateboard!’ And he had this huge smile on his face. It was neat to see,” she said.
Tom Colley always “looked for the memory,” one special instant, at every Little Jimmie party, Hasty said.
“I remember my first year. This kid got a skateboard. You could see the whites of his eyes. It was as cute as anything I had ever seen,” he said.
Later that afternoon, another group of Bluefield High School students arrived to help get the party ready. Football player Danny Miller was assisting for the first time. His first job was to learn how each gift bag is organized.
“You have to check certain tags,” he said. “You don’t want to give a boy some pink gloves.”
Shawn Pennington, who plays football, baseball, and wrestles for Bluefield High School, also had to learn the right Little Jimmie procedures. He looked at the rows of red bags and saw how many local children needed help this Christmas.
“This just makes me feel lucky, having parents who love me like they do,” he said. “It just makes you think.”
Toys, snacks, candy, toboggans, gloves and books filled each bag. Steve Hopta of Bluefield said some of the books came from the West Virginia Library Commission while others came from a Rotary Club grant.
At a nearby table, Don Rice, who has the formal title of bag alignment director, added up the total number of gift bags. The result was 755 ready to go.
“I think I’ve been doing this roughly around 12 years,” Rice estimated.
“I got started in the Rotary with shopping, and now I’m sort of in charge of getting the bags ready for the party. We got done quicker than we did before, so we’re moving right along.”
Security personnel protected the Christmas gifts after the volunteers had finished with their work.
“We want to thank Professional Security Service, LLC, in Princeton for volunteering to watch over the Little Jimmie gifts Thursday evening after all the preparations were done,” Community Christmas Tree Coordinator and Daily Telegraph Editor Samantha Perry said.