Operation Christmas Teen is underway for its eighth year making sure less fortunate teens are not forgotten during the holiday season.
Many charitable organizations focus on children ages 12 and under when it comes to providing Christmas gifts, shared Kathy Cole, organizer of Operation Christmas Teen. The program seeks to provide gifts to teens who otherwise would not receive gifts on Christmas morning.
Cole shared, "Sometimes these teens are just forgotten."
She shared that her passion for helping these youth came in the late 1990s when some teens helped deliver gifts to some younger children as she volunteered. When asking one teen what he Santa was going to bring him, Cole said that the 15-year-old said "We don't get anything, we're too old."
At that point, Cole became engrossed in helping out teens in the area. Recipients of the program can be found in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties and come from all sorts of volunteer and sponsoring agencies.
Volunteer crews work to gather gifts at gift drives at local stores including Wal-Mart and K-Mart. Othe sponsors of the event include the Martinsburg Correctional Center, Martinsburg City Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Harpers Ferry Police Department. Also involved are Johnnie's Express, Blue Knights-Chapter 5, Olde Hangar Restaurant and Lounge, Hedgesville High's student government, United Bank, Ellsworth Music, O'Hurley's General Store and Steve Warner Productions.
Cole explained that names of needy teens come from all sorts of sources. "We get referrals from schools, police departments, neighbors, even parents," she said.
Gifts are currently being collected and can be dropped off locally at O'Hurley's General Store and United Bank in Shepherdstown and Ellsworth Music in Ranson. There are suggested gifts which include jeans, shirts, shoes of all sizes, bikes, footballs, DVDs, watches, earrings, cologne, CD players, games and coats of all sizes. These are suggested gifts, Cole said. Teens really are excited to get any type of gift, she continued.
The volunteers with the Operation Christmas Teen program verify the need of the teen that is recommended to the program and make sure that child is not already receiving assistance from somewhere else.
"We want to make sure everyone gets something," she said.
After seven years, Cole said that the volunteers served more than 2,000 needy teens in the Eastern Panhandle.
She said that volunteers are always needed as the gifts are delivered to the teens usually between Dec. 21 and Christmas Eve. Those wishing to volunteer should contact Steve Warner at 304-676-4422 or Cole at 304-267-0156.