Karen Hughes of the Bedford Community Christmas Station announced that she was stepping down from the president’s position and leaving the Bedford Community Christmas Station Board after the scheduled board meeting on Monday, June 22. She made the following statement before stepping down:
Hello! I know that there is a lot going in the world right now that is so much more important than a little 501c3 organization in Bedford, but I want to give you an update regarding Bedford Community Christmas Station. I will be stepping down from the president’s position and leaving the Bedford Community Christmas Station Board after the scheduled Board meeting on June 22. Please allow me to share my story:
In September 2005, I was hired by Bedford Department of Social Services to provide support services to low-income families in Bedford County. One of my first tasks was to find sponsors to purchase Christmas gifts for low-income children. The response from the community was amazing, but I found that some children got bags full of goodies, while some children got a few gifts. Some children got clothing that did not fit, or toys that parents did not want their children to have, while some children got TV sets and bikes.
I had lived in Montgomery County, Virginia, for many years, and I had volunteered with Montgomery County Christmas Store. I knew that the program in Montgomery County provided parents with the opportunity to select clothing and gifts for their children, while also providing gifts for the parents as well as a food box. I talked with community leaders and suggested that Bedford could offer a similar program. I received support and encouragement from county directors and administrators, so a meeting was held in March 2006 to see if we had the support needed to establish a “Christmas Store” in Bedford.
A wonderful group of people came forward and pledged to help make this program a reality. We formed a Board of Directors, wrote by-laws, and elected officers. With the goal of serving families in December 2006, we saw rapid progress: Bedford County gave us free use of a building, Bedford County Department of Social Services agreed to pay our electric bill, Habitat for Humanity made wooden shelves, Peebles donated shelving and racks, Johnny Overstreet applied for Articles of Incorporation, Arthur’s Business Services completed our 501c3 application with the IRS, and churches began donating funds for toys, clothing, household items and food.
Montgomery County Christmas Store provided guidance and forms so we could learn by their example. The building on Washington Street in Bedford was set up like a department store, with sections for infant clothing, infant toys, girl’s clothing, boy’s clothing, teen clothing, teen gifts, toys, household items and food. Volunteers came forward to help, and we were able to serve 262 low-income families that first year! We saw many miracles that year, and we really felt that God was blessing this program.
Here is one example: We served families on the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in December that year. After we served the last family that was scheduled to “shop” on Friday, the shelves were practically empty. We had 60 families scheduled for Saturday, very little to offer them, and no funds to purchase any additional merchandise! I despaired that these families would be very disappointed, and dreaded facing them on Saturday morning. On the way to the Christmas Station building, I happened to stop at my office and saw that a letter had arrived from C.B. Fleet Company in Lynchburg. The letter contained a check in the amount of $1,600! I was thrilled to run to Wal-Mart and purchase the items we needed to serve those families.
In the years to follow, we continued to learn and grow. We added client workshops in 2008; families that had been accepted to “shop” at the Christmas Station were given the opportunity to earn bonus gifts by attending workshops on topics such as child safety, child nutrition, Autism, family budgeting, stress management, etc. These workshops, presented by local professionals, have always been well-attended and very popular! In 2012, we moved to 584 Blue Ridge Avenue, courtesy of rent-free space provided by Covington Company. In 2013, we received the amazing gift of a building when Earl Childers offered to give us the property at 510 Blue Ridge Avenue in Bedford! Through Mr. Childers’ incredible generosity we were able to expand our services to include a gift department for senior citizens and disabled adults. We were also able to add an Easter assistance program, a back-to-school shoes program, and a year-round food pantry.
During the past 14 years, Bedford Community Christmas Station has provided Christmas assistance to more than 4,000 low-income families. With the addition of Easter Eggstras, Shoes for Students, and the year-round food pantry, we have served more than 5,000 families since our humble beginning in 2006. This could not have been accomplished without the support of our wonderful donors and our tireless, compassionate, selfless volunteers. I have been blessed as I have witnessed hundreds of genuine displays of concern for others. I have heard heart-warming stories from clients, volunteers and donors. I have had the joy of seeing our clients come back to make a donation or serve as a volunteers. I have wept and grieved over the losses that some of our clients have suffered, and I have sadly mourned the loss of close friends such as Nina Jones, Audrey Lee, Gwen Witt, Earl Childers, and Linda Bowyer. I will forever be grateful for the honor of being able to know them and learn from their examples.
It has been a very difficult decision to leave the Bedford Community Christmas Station Board after 14 years. I am very invested in this organization and this community, and I want very much to see the Christmas Station continue to grow and meet the needs of our low-income neighbors. It has become increasingly difficult for me to juggle the demands of a full-time job, a growing non-profit organization, and home/family, so I am going to pass the baton of leadership to a new Board President. I feel that new leadership and fresh ideas will keep the Christmas Station moving forward. Although I will not be involved in overseeing the operation of the program, my heart will not allow me to completely end my relationship with the Christmas Station, the volunteers, and the community. I plan to stay involved as the chair of the eligibility committee and the department head for infant clothing.
I want to express my deep gratitude to everyone who has been involved with supporting and publicizing the Christmas Station in any way since our inception in 2006. I also want to thank the families that I have had the honor and privilege to serve. I have been blessed beyond measure, and I will carry all of you in my heart.
Karen Hughes, Bedford Community Christmas Station
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