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The old maxim for a successful business — location, location, location — probably holds true for donation drives.

During this age of social distancing and staying at home, those of us lucky enough to have the option to work remotely are rarely making forays to the office.

While there’s no question this helps to avoid possible coronavirus exposure, we’re having to do without aspects of work life that we took for granted, like camaraderie and ease of communication.

I’d also add a third “C” that’s missing from remote office life: opportunities for charity.

Every place I’ve worked would hold events to help those less fortunate with fundraisers or coat or food drives. They were fairly simple affairs: Put up a few flyers in the kitchen area or near the coffee machine, designate a drop-off location, send out the occasional email, then pass along the donations for distribution.

The problem now is, with remote work, there’s no one heading to an office where they’d see a flyer or drop off donated goods when they arrive for the day.

To make matters worse, the state of our pandemic economy has left many more in need.

I reached out to Bill Christian, a retired Columbia Gas official who has coordinated an employee toy drive for more than 30 years. I made contact with him a few years ago through my wife, Kris, when they both volunteered at the Manna Meal soup kitchen downtown.

I had been working with my agency just over a year following the 2016 floods. As the Christmas holidays neared, a colleague from Virginia asked how the office could help the less fortunate — especially children who were awaiting a visit from Santa Claus.

I asked my wife if there were any local charities that could use our help and she mentioned the Columbia Gas Control Toy Drive that Bill managed. What appealed to me was it being a local effort and that it helped kids and families right here in Kanawha County.

I worked out a few things with our office and regional leadership and coordinated with our logistics chief. We set out a few boxes and a folding table, printed a few posters and sent out a few emails. I wasn’t sure what kind of response we’d get but figured it was worth a shot.

What resulted could probably be called a Christmas miracle. By the end of the drive, we’d collected boxes and boxes of toys and a small fleet of bicycles. While I knew emergency management workers were in the business of helping people, I learned that year that they have a soft spot for helping children. I was floored by the display of generosity.

And so it’s gone for the past few years. We set up boxes and make space and toys magically appear.

But, given the lack of office traffic brought on by COVID-19, along with the uncertainties of how distribution would go, I didn’t imagine we could pull off a toy drive this year.

A week after Thanksgiving, though, my conscience was gnawing at me. I checked with Bill, to see how he was doing.

“It has definitely been a crazy year,” he emailed back.

He’s working with a smaller team for safety and, with few exceptions, no one is being let into the Columbia Pipeline building, where the toys are collected. He now picks up the donations at the front of the building and takes them in himself.

“I guess I’m expendable,” he joked.

I learned that volunteers from the Columbia Gas Control group will be collecting toys through Dec. 15. Among the items that are popular:

  • Legos
  • LOL toys
  • Board games
  • Small bicycles (Bill says they’re “like gold” to kids)

He also says children’s socks and blankets are needed.

Bill wrote: “Lots of people want to help, but normal chains of communication are broken, especially the schools and churches.” The result of that breakdown is going to be some disappointed children.

When we don’t gather where we used to, links in the chain that bind us together get broken. I told Bill I hoped that these words would help to reconnect the chain.

He responded, “As long as you have the faith of a mustard seed, right?”

For those who wish to drop off donations for the Gas Control drive, Bill can be reached at 304-546-3395 or by email at He’ll meet you at the door.

Cash donations may be sent to: Gas Control Toy Drive, 300 28th St. SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

Philip Maramba is a former managing editor of the Charleston Daily Mail. He now works in government public affairs.