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W.Va. man spreads Christmas cheer to needy

December 19, 1997

Editor's note: The Herald-Mail Co. is highlighting 12 different individuals or groups who make a difference to others during the holiday season.

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - At 90, Hugh Via might be expected to start slowing down a little.

Instead, he remains active, running the Christmas Cheer booth in Charles Town's downtown.

The program is similar to a Salvation Army kettle drive, with donations going to help feed and clothe the needy during the holidays.

The program also collects toys for children, he said.

Christmas Cheer started in Charles Town in 1954. Via has been running the operation since 1960.

Last year, 120 food baskets and 20 gift certificates were given out to needy families.

"You don't have any idea how much work it is," Via said. "I swore last year I wouldn't do it this year."

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Many of those who receive the donations are the elderly.

Via was born in 1907.

"When I was young, it was an extremely different Christmas. You didn't go to stores and see all those things. We got to town in a horse and buggy. We didn't get an automobile until 1917 or 1918," Via said.

Via organizes volunteers from the local Lions Club and other organizations to serve in the booth from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The volunteers later will fill the food baskets in an assembly line process and then they will be distributed.

Several years ago, one of the baskets had not been distributed so Via took it out on Christmas morning to a mother and child in a small home on Blue Ridge Mountain.

A young girl answered the door and her eyes lighted up when she saw a doll in the basket.

"I told her Santa brought it," Via said. "Her expression really made all the work worthwhile."

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