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Enthusiastic volunteers help make Mountain Outreach Gift Day a great success


UC student Victoria Kirby sorts toys in preparation for Moutain Outreach Gift Day.

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky.—Volunteers from as far away as Georgia and North Carolina joined student, faculty and staff volunteers from University of the Cumberlands for the Mountain Outreach (MO) program’s annual Gift Day, on Saturday, Dec. 13, at the organization’s warehouse just outside Williamsburg.

Smiles were the order of the day, on the faces of both volunteers and participants, for this annual event that has become a part of Whitley County’s Christmas celebration. For many years, families would begin lining up hours ahead of the event, but this was the second year that MO has required pre-registration to participate. Even with 197 families registered, and a total of 879 children served, the result was a smooth, enjoyable process for everyone involved.

There was a total of 269 volunteers, 94 of whom were UC students, including several members of the football, volleyball, men’s and women’s wrestling and women’s soccer teams, as well as individuals and representatives of other groups. This was the largest group of UC student volunteers in Gift Day history. Also giving of their time were 43 volunteers from Clinch River Baptist Church in Lake City, Tenn.; 47 from Calhoun Baptist Church in Calhoun, Ga.; 63 from Immanuel Baptist Church in Glasgow, Ky.; 4 from Green Meadows Baptist Church in N.C.; 11 local churches; and there were 4 UC faculty members and 3 staff members.

Gift Day requires preparation for months before the event. In fact, plans will soon be under way to make next year’s event successful. Throughout the year, gifts of clothing and toys, as well as personal and household items come into the warehouse. These require numerous volunteer hours to sort and categorize, then fold, hang or shelve. Before gift day, MO workers must not only print registration materials and register participants but also communicate with volunteer groups to arrange the logistics of out-of-town-groups’ visit to Williamsburg. To make room for gift items, workers moved building material that is normally stored in the warehouse, making sure to strap everything together, and placed it in a covered outdoor area for protection from the elements until it could be moved back inside after Gift Day. This year, Allen Myers, from Whitesburg, came on Monday and built 22 additional saw horses that were used to construct tables for displaying the toys. Mountain Outreach purchased plywood sheets, which workers simply laid across the saw horses for table tops. Next summer, the table tops will become part of a new house constructed by MO students and other volunteer groups somewhere in this area.

Other preparations for Gift Day included providing necessities for the comfort of volunteers, from portable bathroom facilities to a break area with snacks and a place to sit down for a few minutes. Since many volunteers worked outdoors, from directing parking to helping clients carry their gifts to their cars, a place to come inside and warm up was vital. Also plans were made to move people, equipment and gifts between the parking areas and the warehouses. Tommy Thompson of Tommy’s Motor Sports in Clinton, Tenn. allowed the use of a Kawasaki Terex to meet that need.

Each year, the most important preparation involves obtaining the toys for the children. Monetary gifts given throughout the year by UC friends and alumni, and designated for Gift Day, provide the toy budget, and several days before Gift Day, student volunteers go to the Williamsburg Wal-Mart for a mid-night shopping spree. The Wal-Mart staff members are helpful in making shopping as easy as possible, and they even provide milk and cookies for “Santa’s helpers.” Many other gifts are brought by the volunteer groups who come to work. For example, this year, Calhoun Baptist Church provided more than 70 new bicycles, as well as clothing. When everything is brought to the warehouse, the toys are placed in age groups, ready to make Christmas brighter for boys and girls who might not otherwise have a new toy.

When families arrived at the warehouse on Saturday, volunteers were in place to direct parking and to help participants through the process. A student volunteer helped the adults choose two new, age-appropriate toys for each child in their family. There were also books and some food items available for every family. After choosing new gifts, families could go to another building at MO, the distribution center, where they chose good used clothing, toys and household items.

Also located at the distribution center was the child care area, manned by campus KEA members, where parents could safely leave their children while they shopped. For security, each child and parent received an identification tag before the children entered the child care area to play games, draw, color, play with toys, have their faces painted or just hang out with dedicated students.

Special individuals make up the volunteer force that makes Gift Day a success. Many also come to volunteer during the summer when Mountain Outreach builds and repairs area homes for individuals and families who, because of health or financial reasons need the organization’s help. The Green Meadows and Clinch River churches are examples of groups that are involved in both aspects of MO work.

Rev. Keith Tillman, pastor at Clinch River, said that his group is already planning their summer trip for 2009, and his son, Alexander, who knows he must be twelve to take part in summer projects, wants to be a part of the project and eagerly implores, “By then, I’ll be 113/4; can I come?”

Volunteers at this year’s Gift Day came in all ages, and all seemed to enjoy the experience, and many are already planning their 2009 trip to Williamsburg. Tammy Braden, missions coordinator for Clinch River Baptist Church, says this is the first time they have done Gift Day, but that they will be back. She said, “We have people working at every station, and although the people [we serve] receive a blessing, we receive twice the blessing.”