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Couple's ministry provides Christmas cheer to needy

December 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

Editor's note: This series over the 12 days before Christmas recognizes those individuals and groups that make the holidays better for others.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

GERRARDSTOWN, W.VA. - Doyle and Bertha Collins make the phone calls, send out letters, buy the toys, collect the food and help put together Christmas baskets for local needy families. The one thing they won't do is accept the credit.

"This is a ministry that the Lord gave us," said Doyle Collins. "I must say that I give him all of the credit. We take none of the credit. He uses us as his vessels."

This marks the sixth year that the couple has organized a drive to collect food and toys for needy families at Christmas. Collins said he expects more than 300 children will receive toys this year and their families will receive enough food - including at least one turkey - for a proper holiday feast.

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For many families, the ministry offers the only opportunity to celebrate Christmas with all the trappings.

The couple also converts their Jules Frozen Custard stand in Inwood, W.Va., each Christmas into "Santa's House." Their Santa does more than lend his ears to children's desires, however.

Santa tells each child the story of Jesus and also gives each child a Bible, related coloring books, a pin that reads "Jesus is the reason for the season," and a Polaroid photograph of the visit with Santa.

There is no cost.

"We want to try to impress upon them the real meaning of Christmas," Collins said.

Santa's House will be open on Friday and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the couple's ice cream stand in Apple Blossom Plaza, on W.Va. 51.

Preparing most of the food and toy baskets begins in the county's schools.

Guidance counselors call families that they believe may need some assistance. If those families indicate a need exists, Collins calls them and asks a few questions. If they are deemed to be qualified, a wish list is solicited.

Bertha Collins said she is glad to know that the children who visit Santa's house hear the meaning behind Christmas. One year, she said, the man who donned the Santa suit dealt with an unbearable boy.

Studying to be a teacher, that man the next day saw the same child reading the Bible he had received.

"All this is working," Doyle Collins said.

It's working - and it requires work, the couple, both 61, said.

Volunteers who want to help assemble food and toy baskets - a weeklong process - may call the couple at 304-268-2688 or 304-229-2164.

Donations of new toys and nonperishable food, such as canned goods, instant mashed potatoes and dry stuffing mixes, are needed, as are monetary donations, the couple said.

Food or toy donations will be picked up by the couple or can be dropped off at their church, Bunker Hill Brethren in Christ Church, if prior arrangements are made.

Monetary donations may be mailed to: Children's Christian Workshop, P.O. Box 307, Gerrardstown, WV 25420, or Children's Christian Workshop, c/o Jefferson Security Bank, Inwood, WV 25428.

Wednesday: Eric and Shawn Rosenthal of Hagerstown

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