The holidays call for merriment, family traditions and snow flurries in the air. One holiday tradition your family can start right now is lending a hand to others this Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanza.
Maybe you bought too many cans of corn for Thanksgiving and they are just sitting on your shelf. Perhaps you have spotted a toy in the store that someone might like, but walked by without picking it up.
Little moments like these can add up being so much for children and families in our community. This December, you have the choice to lend a hand, a can or make a monetary donation to local charities. The people you help through these acts of service could be your neighbors, friends and colleagues, so now is the time to contribute whatever you are able.
Making spirits bright has never been more fulfilling now and year-round. I spoke with some local folks who work year-round to serve those in need to find out how we can make the greatest impact with our holiday helping this year.
Heather Lapp, chief strategic officer for YWCA Wheeling, says they are currently in need of donations rather than volunteers right now.
“We are good on volunteers as of right now due to COVID-19 lockdown. We do have a lot of people staying here, so we don’t know when that will change,” said Lapp.
“We are always in need of women’s personal care items—tampons, shampoo, conditioner, things like that. We also are always in need of women’s clothing and are always running low on underwear.”
While many want to purchase gifts for people during the holidays, basic needs are also gift-worthy as they often are short on those items.
“We could also use African American hair care products. We have several churches that are providing us with Christmas gift bags, but we can always use all those in-demand items, as well as bedding and towels,” said Lapp.
In addition to community support, the YWCA receives assistance from the Unitarian Universalists and Vance Methodist Church.
According to Lapp, the YWCA is filled with gratitude during each season thanks to support from neighbors.
“We can’t appreciate the help enough. We couldn’t do what we do without community support.” donate
If you would like to donate, you can stop by the YWCA at 1100 Chapline Street in Wheeling Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Grow Ohio Valley
Grow Ohio Valley’s education program manager, Hannah Hedrick, says monetary donations are specifically being sought right now.
“As far as events, we aren’t having any hands-on things right now, but people are always welcome to provide monetary donations via our website. I would encourage everyone to shop locally and support your local farmers by spending your money at places like the Public Market in Downtown,” said Hedrick.
“You can read about our kids’ programming and public health initiatives; we really do a lot and other organizations help us do it. Street Moms is a great local resource that we work with for example.”
While Grow OV isn’t doing anything specifically during the holiday season, they do emphasize the need to buy all your holiday food from local vendors to support the community.
“I cannot stress enough to support local farmers throughout the holidays. If you can, then you should do it because our money will make the winter season that much better for them.”
To drop off donations, please visit their location at 1006 Grandview Street or visit their website to contribute in other ways.
The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling
Executive director Becky Shilling-Rodocker of The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling says they are doing big things at their facility for the holidays.
“We fill blessing boxes all over the Ohio Valley. Right now, we have about eight or nine boxes out and about,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
“The boxes are like cabinets and they are set out in the public. There is one at Bridge Street, one in Valley Grove Post Office, another at the Gregsville playground and one up in West Liberty.”
These boxes are placed strategically all over the community and are specifically there for community members to donate what they can.
“We need nonperishable foods, feminine hygiene products, gloves, jackets and diapers that are not in great big boxes for people that are in a pinch. We always need coats and kids books, as well as blankets,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
She also is proud that the soup kitchen has held its doors open every day for the last two years, except for a few weeks during 2020.
“We are 100% community funded and volunteer-driven. We are open full steam ahead and we have only closed the kitchen once in 2020 for two weeks,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
“Other than that, we have been open through all seasons and all throughout COVID-19. We have provided about 350 vaccinations here at the Wheeling Soup Kitchen as well.”
Visitors of The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling cannot only get a plate of food, but also medical care from licensed professionals that live locally.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to get up to The Highlands for a warm meal or to be seen by a doctor, so coming here is not only easier but more familiar and comfortable for people,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
“We have a pharmacist here and Wheeling Health Right comes twice a month. The pharmacist comes two or three times a week on his days off.”
The soup kitchen is feeding approximately 200 meals each day and is also assisting with the Winter Freeze Shelter.
In addition to this, festive dinners are hosted for the holidays and gifts are provided to children.
“Around Christmas, we will have a large dinner and we will do the same for New Year’s Eve. The children’s program is also in need of gifts for their Dear Santa Wish List,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
“The program has 170 children and this is also purely done by community members shopping for them. Some of the gifts have been from the same person for 10 years.”
While Shilling-Rodocker deeply appreciates anything the community contributes, right now and in the coming months, she says hands on volunteers are what is needed most.
“You can even do a family volunteer day with your kids, too. Right now, there’s a lot of publicity and love going towards the homeless and impoverished, but then there’s a huge let down in January,” said Shilling-Rodocker.
“We try to make January a festive time as well, so the extra help would be appreciated volunteer-wise. I’d suggest calling around Christmas time and set your volunteer date for January and commit to it. We have plenty of people wanting to help in December, but then that drop-off leaves us with a need for volunteers.”
To sign up for volunteer opportunities, please directly contact The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling at 304-233-2992.
The Salvation Army
Captain Mark Van Meter of The Salvation Army says there are multiple ways people can help during the following weeks.
“We have the bell ringers who are just getting started out in the community right now,” said Van Meter.
“People can come to the Salvation Army and fill out an application to do that. We are always looking for volunteers with our bell ringing and we have very feasible shifts—four hours, six hours, eight—whatever they want to do.”
Jennifer Van Meter of the Salvation Army is also in charge of their Angel Tree event.
“The Angel Tree provides toys to children in need. To find an Angel Tree you can stop by JCPenney’s or the Sports Complex just to name a few places,” said Mark Van Meter, Jennifer Van Meter’s husband.
“We are also running our Coats for Kids drive and we have given out 300 coats for kids this year so far. We are very thankful for the support in our community. With our bell ringers hard work, we will raise about $70,000 by the end of the season for those in need.”
According to Van Meter, The Salvation Army in Wheeling has helped almost 400 children this season so far.
To volunteer with The Salvation Army as a bell ringer this season, you can visit their location located at 140 16th Street in Wheeling or call at 304-233-4400.
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Wheeling Area Habitat for Humanity
Paul Zogg, vice president and construction coordinator for Habitat for Humanity, has a rare need that only specific shoes can fill this season.
“Usually, we do use and need a lot of volunteers. The majority of the volunteers kind of want to get their hands on building a house, but right now we need volunteers that help with grant writing, computer work and administrative things like that,” said Zogg.
“We are always taking contributions through which you can make a secure donation online as well.”
Habitat for Humanity is continuing their search for a computer-savvy person, as they recently just finished building one of their many homes in a very well-known Wheeling area.
“Our most recent house we built was on Wheeling Island, which was kind of an interesting build due to the location. I don’t think a new house has been built there in a long time,” said Zogg.
While we deeply appreciate any and all help, we need somebody to sit down and enter the information we have on hand—that is our biggest volunteer need right now and we are looking at some college students to maybe help with that.”
Zogg includes that Habitat for Humanity has received a lot of support from the community over the years and that it never goes unnoticed. To contribute monetary donations or to contact Habitat for Humanity about administrative opportunities, please visit their website.
St. Vincent DePaul
St. Vincent De Paul lends a hand each season through programs they implement as well.
Right now, their focus is on the elderly and homebound. Debbie Davis of St.Vincent De Paul Church explains that while their Giving Tree for children has been completed, they still need many items for those that are young at heart.
“We are currently doing a Giving Tree for the elderly and homebound. There are tags on our tree for people to purchase things like lotion, toothbrushes, tissues, stamps and things like that,” said Davis.
“The tree is at the back of the church, so that is where you can find those if you want to donate. Once the donations come in, we have a committee of women who separate everything appropriately into individual bags and gift it to those who need them.”
“At this point, we are expecting to gift 30 people—some are in continuous care at Good Shepard Nursing Home and others are members of our parish who are currently homebound.”
To visit the giving tree at Saint Vincent De Paul Church, please visit their location at 2244 Marshall Avenue in Wheeling.
Wheeling Police Department
Every year, the Wheeling Police Department hosts Operation Toy Lift, which is always a big hit!
Every holiday season, the police along with other law enforcement entities come together to host a toy giveaway so big you can see it from the highway.
“It’s basically a toy drive with a lift included to get people involved from the roadway at the Ohio Valley Mall,” said Phillip Stahl of the Wheeling Police Department.
“People can stop by to drop off new or used items, but do ask that they not be wrapped. It is important to also note that you shouldn’t forget about teenagers and really, young children. We try to reach out to kids of all ages.”
This will be the fifth year of Operation Toy Lift and in years past, characters such as Elsa from Frozen have made an appearance to enhance the experience.
“Our record event was last year. The donations were in the thousands and the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley will distribute them for us. Everyone works together on this,” said Stahl.
Stahl encourages those shopping at the mall to purchase an extra gift or two for the event.
Operation Toy Lift will take place on December 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ohio Valley Mall.
Laughlin Memorial Chapel
The Laughlin Memorial Chapel is currently asking for general monetary donations, items for their onsite gift shop, sponsors for food options and of course gifts for children.
“We ask for money for general purposes and we do use that to buy gifts and sometimes we have some donors that provide us with particular gifts to help families. We are accepting donations and toys currently as our annual campaign runs from the beginning of November through December,” said Martha Wright, Director of Laughlin Memorial Chapel.
Wright does ask that if you plan to donate gifts, that you shop with intent in order to get the gifts out quickly.
“If community members are going to help organizations with gifts, then they need to act now for every organization to be able to fulfill every kids’ wish list,” said Wright.
“We have no idea if we are going to get things in time even when we order them weeks in advance. For our older kids, we don’t give them gifts. We give them a gift card so they can buy specifically what they want as they are older and are more independent than say our smaller children.”
Once the children receive their gift cards, Wright says a two-day trip for shopping is executed so they can buy themselves or a family member something.
“For our little kids, we have our gift shop, which is all free and is stocked with things people give us,” said Wright.
“Maybe a scented candle, for example. They can get it for their mom or dad, and we wrap it and then the week of Christmas, they take it home. We collect those things from staff and friends to stock our store.”
In addition to these programs, the Laughlin Memorial Chapel also hosts an event every Saturday specifically for women.
“Saturdays are for the unhoused women in our community and we call it our Blossoms event because when you show these women kindness and friendship, they blossom,” said Wright.
“We have sponsors and we make sure they have a nice hot lunch there, so if someone wants to volunteer to provide a meal for Blossoms, they certainly can.”
The program has been ongoing for well over a year. Street Moms runs the program through Laughlin Memorial Chapel and volunteers are always involved.
“It’s fun and it is a day for these women to just relax a bit. If you don’t have income, then you need to have friends and that is what we are, we are friends.”
Youth Services System
John Moses, executive director for Youth Services System, says their Winter Freeze Shelter is always in need of things such as bedding, gloves and jackets.
“During this Christmas season, we have answered groups asking what donations would serve us well with the homeless we welcome at our Winter Freeze Shelter that is actually opening early this year on December 6,” said Moses.
“Additionally, we get requests from families for Christmas gifts for their kids, especially if they missed the sign-ups with House of the Carpenter, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.”
Moses says YSS also provides a store where those in need can pick up items from canned goods to even furniture.
“We are fortunate that the public makes donations all year round to our Free Store.”
YSS is in need of all winter wear, bedding items, children’s gifts and canned goods.
If you would like to donate to YSS, you can stop by their location at 87 15th Street in Wheeling.
No matter what you are able to give, be it your time, money, or other resources, any level of giving can help make the holidays for someone in our community. Other local charities taking donations for the holidays include the House of Hagar, Street Moms, House of the Carpenter and HOH Shares, to name a few.
How do you give back during the holiday season? Share with us in the comment section below.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.