By R. Scott Belzer
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It was 8 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 20 and a line of about 20 people streamed out the back end of St. William Catholic Church, off W. 5th St., in downtown London.
Seven Navy JROTC cadets from North Laurel High School stood ready to help. One black bag – filled with clothing and at least two toys – was given to 414 families from 9 a.m. to about noon, but the students from North Laurel High didn’t mind the work at all.
“I just feel good doing it,” said Roger Garrett, one of the students.
Leading them was Vickie Nicholson, the charmingly, energetic Christmas giveaway coordinator at St. William. This is the 36th time the church has contributed to the community during the holiday season, an event that Nicholson can trace back four generations in her family.
For the past month, Nicholson and more than 20 volunteers have shopped for, wrapped, and labeled all 414 presents. The presents – made specific to order – come from Family Resource Center Directors from all over Laurel County, ranging from coats, jackets, shoes and pants to dolls, monster trucks, and bikes.
“Everything is wrapped. Well, we haven’t found a way to wrap the bikes quite yet,” Nicholson said. “We haven’t found a bag big enough.”
For more than three hours, parents and relatives arrived at St. William to pick up their presents. They each carried a note from their respective Family Resource Center Director and photo ID. The seven JROTC cadets then scurried to a school’s designated pile, found the gift, and delivered it to a vehicle.
The gifts were made possible through a series of donations from St. William’s members and elsewhere. This included a hefty donation from Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary as well as Toys for Tots, both in Lexington.
While this year seemed to go quite smoothly, Nicholson and her team of volunteers could recall years that it didn’t. However, each memory was recited with a smile and a laugh.
“This isn’t nearly as chaotic as it has been. For one thing, it’s a school day, so there are no kids,” Nicholson said. “It’s also early. We had one year where a family walked five miles with kids to get their gifts. We didn’t let them walk back.”
Volunteer Debbie Grew recalled a year where St. William’s long, slightly steep parking lot was covered with ice. Rather than have people wait in line and worry about parking, volunteers delivered presents through the elevator to the church’s front entrance, all without the aid of North Laurel’s JROTC.
Nicholson shared the story of Matt Gulbret, a volunteer who, one year, noticed certain presents were left at the church. So determined to make sure the presents were where they needed to be at Christmas time, Gulbret made a trip to the post office and tracked down those who could not attend the giveaway. One included a handicapped participant who was unable to leave his home.
No matter the situation, St. Williams’s volunteer staff performed their duty with pride, passion and commitment. Nicholson also highlighted the importance of community outreach in London.
“I think some people are just afraid to ask for help. But this is what we do,” Nicholson said.
For more information on donating to next year’s Christmas giveaway at St. William, contact the church at (606) 864-7500.