In Appalachian Community, Christmas Arrives in a Truck from Ohio
Terry Evans saw the need in her hometown, so she did something about it
The Huffington Post has chosen Terry Evans as its "Greatest Person of the Day" -- an honor recognizing people who make a difference.
Here's part of Terry Evans' Christmas shopping list: 300 pairs of shoes. Dozens of coats. Stacks of scarves. A few hundred turkeys.
Daunting? Sure. But Evans -- with a lot of help from the community -- won't rest until she has delivered Christmas to a poverty-stricken region of West Virginia.
"I get so much joy in knowing the kids down there are enjoying the holidays like we are," said Evans, who runs a Strongsville-based organization called We Care. "On Christmas, I'll know that tonight, they'll have something to eat."
This is the 22nd year she and a crew of volunteers will load a truck with clothes, food and toys and drive to Boone County, WV, where many families are so destitute, kids literally don't eat between the time school lets out on Friday and starts again on Monday.
Consider the answer Evans got from a Boone County teacher when she asked what kind of shoes the students wanted this year.
"It doesn't matter as long as they're shoes -- just to keep their feet warm," the teacher replied. "That's all they care about."
A Shocking Visit
When Evans graduated from Sherman High School in Seth, WV in 1956, the coal mines were operating and people had jobs.
Shortly afterward, she moved to the Cleveland area with her family and rarely looked back.
A visit to her hometown for a high school reunion in the late 1980s shocked her. Poverty was rampant.
"I was telling a friend about it and we talked about what we could do here," Evans recalled. "Then God just started opening up doors."
She called the organization We Care and found that people, in fact, did.
"Everyone just pitched in when they heard the need," Evans said.
Truly, it is a community effort. Strongsville firefighters stage a coat drive, load the trucks and drive them down. Members of Grace Church organize a Shoe Tree. Students at Chapman Elementary collect food and buy gifts. People knit scarves and sew pajamas. Donations pour in from local families.
"Until you see it, you just don't understand that level of poverty can exist five hours from Strongsville," said Fire Chief Jeff Branic, who drove the truck last year. "I give Terry a great deal of credit, the way she takes this on."
Branic said he was moved by what he saw on his visits to the Appalachian region.
"I overheard one kid asking another what he wanted for Christmas, and he answered, 'I want a warm blanket,'" he said.
Labor of Love
Around Dec. 10, Evans will supervise as a truck is loaded with clothes, toys, toiletries and food -- oatmeal, oil, potatoes, peanut butter and jelly, flour, canned goods.
Once the team of volunteers arrives in West Virginia, she'll hit the grocery store to buy the perishables, like turkeys and butter, so the families will be able to make real Christmas dinners.
We Care works with the churches and schools to distribute the items. The teachers have lists of shoe sizes, of who needs a coat, who would love a football.
"The teachers probably know more about these kids than their parents do," Evans said.
That's not all We Care does. The organization now provides "Love Bags" -- sacks filled with fruit cups, peanut butter crackers, oatmeal packets and other food -- for one school every Friday so the kids will have something to eat over the weekend.
The group will also buy Thanksgiving dinners for a few dozen families.
"I'd like to do a massive food drive this year, too, to stock the churches down there for awhile," Evans said.
Now that she's seen the poverty, Evans, who has five grown children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, can't just look away.
"Here I am in my nice warm place, I ate a nice dinner, and there are kids going to bed hungry," Evans said, shaking her head.
So she does what she can, and maintains she gets as much out of it as the kids who will go to bed on Christmas with warm clothes, full tummies and -- just maybe -- a little more hope.
"It's fun -- it really is," Evans said. "It's just the love of my live. It's my heart."
Donations to We Care can be sent to 16365 Heather Lane, Middleburg Hts., OH, 44130.