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Representatives of the Underprivileged Children Foundation and its supporters delivered a Santa’s-sleigh-worthy trove of toys to the Walgreens Washington Street West location in Charleston earlier this month.

Truckloads of the toy convoy arrived on the morning of Dec. 17 at the West Side pharmacy to continue their holiday journeys to homes for Christmas morning surprises this past weekend.

To launch the benevolent holiday effort, the UCF received referrals from West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Child Protective Services to distribute the toys to 600 children throughout 11 Southern West Virginia counties this holiday season. Donations and collection of this year’s toys began on Thanksgiving Day.

“This is our second year partnering with Walgreens, and we collected an estimated 300 toys that morning,” UCF President Tommy Vance said last week. “This is also our fifth year of providing toys for underprivileged children.

“I know this is an important thing, because I was one of those underprivileged children — I was 10 years old before I was adopted. I’m so glad the community came together for this. Through our different partnerships, we were able to help around 600 children this year.

“This was our biggest and best Christmas toy drive yet, because so many in the community sponsored children. They helped us not only reach, but exceed our goal this year.

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“Since we started the toy drives five years ago, there have been close to 3,000 children we’ve helped at Christmas,” Vance said.

Founded five years ago, the UCF’s stated mission is to “enhance and advance the lives of West Virginia families in need.” Along with assisting families, the nonprofit group helps individuals on a case-by-case basis with services including financial assistance to pay utility bills and supplying food and monetary donations to families who experience natural disasters and house fires. The organization also provides support through efforts such as donating to community programs such as Little League baseball and football teams, providing school supplies, prom wear and other materials to students, operating the Food SHACK (an acronym for “Stop Hunger Among Community Kids”) food truck and distributing Easter baskets to financially struggling families during the Easter season through its Operation Easter venture.

Vance said the UCF expects to have served its 60,000th meal through the Food SHACK before this year is over. The mobile program began the meal distribution on June 1, 2020.

Newer UCF programs include a first-time Thanksgiving food drive started this year. “We provided about 230 families with a complete Thanksgiving meal, turkeys and all the fixings,” Vance said.

“We’ve also launched another division within the Underprivileged Children Foundation that’s grown quickly, Aspire Family Wellness. We’re helping sober living homes’ clients fight addiction. The services include recovery coaches and they’re free to anyone who has Medicaid,” Vance added.

Additional information regarding the UCF, its range of services and making tax-deductible donations, is available online at www.helpWVkids.org or by calling 304-807-6227.

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