BUCKHANNON – Local photographer Al Tucker had decided he was going to sit it out this year.
He was getting older, and the time, effort and commitment it takes to shoot the exquisite photographs that appear in the annual West Virginia Scenic Calendar – not to mention the number of treks across the Mountain State – just seemed like too much.
“I’m getting older, so I had to take that into account,” Tucker said.
The popular calendars are typically sold as a fundraiser for the Band of Brothers’ Help Us Help Kids annual Christmas fundraiser, which has, over the past four years, helped local youth, flood victims and residents in need in McDowell County, the poorest county in the state, among other beneficiaries.
The pandemic’s impact on nursing home residents
But one Friday, when Tucker and members of the Christian men’s group, Band of Brothers, met for Fellowship Friday, they were, like always, praying for residents of nursing homes.
Due to physical distancing protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, nursing home residents have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, and they often aren’t able to see or have any physical contact with their loved ones.
Tucker and the other ‘brothers’ realized their ordinarily lonely existence had become extraordinary.
“COVID has had a terrible, terrible impact on those residents, so at one of our Fellowship Fridays, the question came up – ‘is there something we could do to make a difference? Is there something we could do to brighten their day, to brighten their Christmas?’”? Tucker said.
So, Tucker put in the work to produce the West Virginia 2021 Scenic Calendar, and the Band of Brothers put their heads together to come up with a way to focus their fundraising on helping nursing home residents have something to look forward to.
That’s when they developed the theme ‘Help Us Help Kids from 1 to 92,’ the optimistic goal of which is to raise $25,000 to assist at least three local nursing homes and possibly 10-12 more in Upshur and surrounding north-central West Virginia counties. The Band of Brothers will work with nursing homes to orchestrate a special Christmastime event for their residents that’s tailored to each particular nursing home’s setup.
“I ended up doing it because the need is so big,” Tucker said of the calendar. “How could I not doing knowing that this might be something that’s going to brighten someone’s day – whether it’s for a half-hour or an hour or a day, or however long?”
So, Tucker began calling some local nursing homes and found out the situation was actually worse than he’d imagined in terms of how widespread – and how deep – loneliness and depression ran among residents.
One nurse told Tucker a heart-wrenching story about how her mother, who had recently passed away, couldn’t understand why her daughter, a nurse, was unable to visit her.
“This lady couldn’t understand, with her daughter being a nurse, why she couldn’t or wouldn’t come to see her,” Tucker recalled. “[The nurse] said her mother didn’t die from COVID-19; she just gave up because she felt she didn’t have anything to live for. In listening to the people I was talking with, they try to do everything they can, but there’s not much they can do, and so this is why we want to give them something to look forward to for the Christmas season.”
‘Something to look forward to’
One of the only aspects of life residents do look forward to is food, and so, at Holbrook on the Hill, the Band of Brothers’ funds will pay for a real Christmas dinner for staff and residents.
“About the only thing the residents have to look forward to is food, so we are really excited because we’re going to give them top-notch turkey and real mashed potatoes,” Tucker said. “And the entire staff is so excited that they’re going to be able to give them this wonderful meal.”
Tucker said ideally, Holbrook staff envisioned organizing some kind of socially distanced group dinner, but if that’s not possible, each tray will be adorned with a festive Christmas place mat, napkin and other seasonal trimmings and taken to residents’ rooms.
“It definitely will be something noticeably different, and everybody’s excited about that, so that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.
The West Virginia Veterans Nursing Home in Clarksburg hopes to use the money to stage a special Angel Tree event for their residents.
“They know their residents, so they are actually going to buy the gifts, and we are going to provide them a nice check, so they will be able to go and buy some great gifts,” Tucker said.
And now, the Band of Brothers has a present of their own for the veterans – a brand new 2021 West Virginia Scenic calendar, and veterans enjoy perusing the collection of photographs and reminiscing about where they visited or would like to have visited.
The challenge and how you can help
But to be successful in their endeavor, the Band of Brothers needs your help.
One challenge the group realized they need to overcome is a lack of access to the traditional avenues through which they publicized and sold the scenic calendars. Band of Brothers members usually make appearances at Rotary, craft shows, Christmas bazaars and meetings of a variety of other civic groups and governmental entities.
“We don’t have those avenues now as a result of the pandemic, and that’s why social media is so important, and that’s why our friends are so important,” he said.
The Band of Brothers is hoping to recruit people to sell 5 to 10 – or even more – calendars, which make stellar Christmas presents, particularly for older adults and current or former residents of West Virginia.
‘Yes we can’
And as the old saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way.
“It’s just a matter of somebody thinking, ‘you know, I can brighten the day of a lady or a gentleman who’s really had a hard year, and probably not really looking forward to Christmas because Christmas is about family,’” Tucker said. “And if you could just put a smile on the person’s face, is there anything better than that, really? That’s the best Christmas present you or I could ever have is knowing that you’ve made a person a little bit happier.”
Tucker said he’s not going to let the pandemic stop this effort.
“It’s easy to sit on the couch and say, ‘oh, well we can’t do it because of this or that,’ but that’s when I like to hitch up my pants like in the Westerns and say, ‘I’m going for it,’” Tucker said. “So, I’m going for it,” he said.
So far, civic groups who have said ‘yes we can help,’ include the Tennerton Lions Club, which is selling calendars. Also, Create Buckhannon is hosting a barbecue chicken dinner Saturday, Oct. 24 in the vacant Racen’s Auto lot across from Rent World of N. Locust Street. (Click here for more information and scroll down to the Oct. 14 post). Pre-orders may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, several other local people have stepped up, including Angela Errett, who is designing and printing Christmas cards for nursing home residents at no cost, and Debbie and James Huber who are baking and selling “Just Baked” items, including designer gnome and candy corn cookies by Debbie and oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies by James.
The Band of Brothers still hopes to support a few youth programs, including the prison Angel Tree program and the Christmas Store for disadvantaged children.
“We raised $32,000 in 2019, and call me crazy or optimistic, but if we can raise $25,000 this year, we can help 15 nursing homes,” Tucker said.
Are you ready to say, ‘yes, I can help?’
Email Tucker at email@example.com or give one of these five members a call: Kevin Hawkins (304-613-8566), Bill Nicholson (304-439-4170), John Simons (304-472-1552) or Tucker (304-704-4292).
Calendars cost $15 apiece and checks may be made out to ‘Band of Brothers.’