COALBURG, W.Va. — Bill Christian might have retired from work, but he has not retired from his company’s charitable outreach.
Christian has spearheaded the annual toy drive for more than 30 years for Columbia Pipeline Group, now TransCanada.
When he retired two summers ago, people wondered what would become of the toy drive.
Not to fear. Christian has been steady as ever the past few weeks, organizing and distributing packages for about 400 families in eastern Kanawha County.
“I’m part of the slow learners club,” he said last week, joking.
His mother actually started this tradition. She was a social worker at Cabin Creek Clinic when she started rounding up food and Christmas trees for a few local families 35 years ago.
Christian carried on the annual event and then got Columbia Gas involved more directly three decades ago. The event stayed relatively small for a while, helping 40 or 50 families.
Then, about 10 years ago, Columbia expanded its efforts to raise money for the toy drive, growing to the current level.
“We were blessed this year,” Christian said. “This makes our Christmas.”
This past week, as packages were being distributed, a long line of people waited outside the house beside Good Shepherd Church, where toys and food were being distributed.
Christian said about half of the participants these days are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
All families receive a supply of food, including a turkey, butter, eggs, produce and some non-perishables. Those with children receive a variety of toys, including bicycles. Some receive clothes and coats.
Families who want to take part may register through social services. The toy drive gets a list of families and needs from the United Way of Central WV Christmas Bureau, a clearinghouse for those providing holiday supplies.
“We’ll tell them how much we think we can take,” Christian said.
TransCanada raises money over the course of the year through fundraisers and through its employees, who sponsor and shop for families.
The company partners with Good Shepherd Church and the nonprofit Mustard Seed in East Bank.
There are other partners, too. They include the ROTC at nearby Riverside High School and, for the first year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Tina Armstrong Willis, one of the volunteers and a longtime churchgoer at Good Shepherd, says she is particularly thankful for the annual labor of the ROTC.
“They are wonderful,” Willis said, noting that the cadets perform chores such as organizing cases of canned goods and produce, along with carrying packages.
She has been helping with the toy drive for 25 years. (“Lord, forever.”) Her mother helped out in the early years.
“I am the toy sorter,” she said. “It completely filled this room. I worked a solid week on it.”
The work will come to a rest for the next few months, but planning for next year will begin again after Easter.
Christian expects to be involved again. He retired in 2016 from his job as the company’s director of gas control — in charge of the flow of gas.
He says his retirement goal, at age 63, remains to finally develop a decent golf game. He’s also an avid reader. “I have no trouble filling the game.”
But when he first retired, he said, “People didn’t ask me what I was going to do. It was about the toy drive.”
Remaining involved, he said, was an easy decision.
“The money was there, and the need was there.”