BUCKHANNON – Throughout late fall and early December, Michels Corporation and Dominion Energy employees working to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Upshur County purchased and assembled piles upon piles of toys.
By the time they were done, they had amassed approximately $10,000 worth of bicycles, baby dolls, stuffed bears to be distributed to children in the north-central West Virginia region.
And on Tuesday, Dec. 18, bright and early at 8 a.m., Roger Ware, regional coordinator for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, stopped by the contractor yard on Brushy Fork Road to pick them up, where they were neatly stacked for all to see in front of a decked-out Christmas tree.
Ware was there to bring them to the Old Tygart Valley Mall in Randolph County, where they – along with many other toy donations – would be doled out to families in need Dec. 20-21.
Toys for Tots aims to collect new, unwrapped toys and distribute them to children whose families may not be able to afford to buy them Christmas presents. Its goal is to rekindle joy and spread the message of Christmas to youth and their families, according to the Toys for Tots’ website.
That’s just the kind of thing Michels Corporation – a subcontractor for Dominion Energy that’s in the business pipeline-building – likes to do when they enter a town.
Michels safety manager Rob Murphy said the corporation’s employees enjoy giving back.
“Throughout all of our pipelines that we do, we try to help out the local people in the area,” Murphy said, adding that Toys for Tots is one of the regular charitable causes Michels and its employees assist.
Ware, one of 12 regional coordinators for Toys for Tots in West Virginia, explained that through outreach efforts on the part of a variety of civic, church, educational and charitable organizations, applications are distributed to families who must apply to be considered for the program.
Families qualify based on financial need, determined by examining a family’s household income, the number of family members and the number of children in the family. Headquartered in Elkins, the local Toys for Tots branch serves Upshur, Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Lewis, Webster and part of Harrison counties – usually children within a 60-mile radius of their home base, Ware said.
Once applications have been approved, families are assigned a specific date and time to pick up the new toys, Ware said.
“It’s kind of important because it’s giving back to the community, and there’s so many children that don’t get toys,” he said. “This program guarantees that those who get registered get toys. It’s got some huge impacts for so many families because without this program, the wouldn’t get anything.”
Ware said Toys for Tots supplies new toys to an average of 2,000 children per year.
“We wish we could do more, but we just don’t have enough toys sometimes,” he said, “but now with this influx of toys, we’ll be able to do more people. People are still signing up even now.”
Ware estimated Toys for Tots would be able to put new toys under Christmas trees for 4,000 more children this year than last.
“In 2017, we gave out about 16,000 toys versus the 20,000 we’re going to be able to give out in 2018 with the pipeline,” Ware said.
Dominion Energy spokesperson Samantha Norris, who attended Tuesday’s pick-up event, said she wanted to underscore that half of the workforce building the natural gas pipeline lives in the region – and that those workers are invested in their community.
“Half the workforce is from the region and have a heart for giving to their neighbors,” Norris said.
Jason Pedersen, health, safety and environment director for Michels, said it’s gratifying to hear that pipeline workers’ contributions have made a marked difference in children’s lives.
“That’s what I like to hear,” Pedersen said of Ware’s comments. “When we come into the communities, and I get with the guys, and it’s all said and done, we hear things like, ‘because of your guys’ support instead of kids getting one or two presents …they got three or four toys,’” Pedersen said, “and you know what? They didn’t get a little cheap toy. They got a bicycle, or they got a PlayStation. It’s all about the smiles on those kids’ faces and being able to tell the employees about the difference they made.”
Norris said more than 500 employees who either work for Dominion Energy, Michels Corporation or one of its subcontractors working on spread 2-1 in Upshur County – which runs from the Buckhannon River to the Adolph Cassidy Road in Randolph County – buy the toys themselves or give cash donations toward the cause.
More information about the Toys for Tots program is available here.