It started as a dream a decade ago to renew a cherished community Christmas tradition and it has become a much-enriched tradition of its own.

For many years each December, a huge Community Christmas Tree was set up in the Fincastle Baptist Church sanctuary on Main Street. On the evening of the annual Christmas program, Santa would appear, distributing tagged gifts to the children along with an orange and a box of candy.

After the congregation moved in 2005, the building became the home of Bob and Wendy Jones, who have continued this custom with their own flair, helping less fortunate children and families. “Bob and I fell in love with this tradition and wanted not only to bring it back to life, but to make it even more special,” said Wendy Jones. That’s when Operation Christmas Cheer, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charity, was born.

For the past nine seasons, Operation Christmas Cheer (OCC) continued that original practice, but with so much more. Each year, shortly before Christmas, OCC throws a holiday party for the guest families, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. The parties are indeed something special, for there is something for each and every invited guest— children and adults.

A whole section of the church sanctuary is filled with overstuffed Christmas bags, tagged with each child’s name and loaded with specially chosen gifts.

For mom, dad and the whole family, another part of the sanctuary is filled with huge baskets with all the fixings for a Christmas dinner, plus food staples to last for some time to come.

Each child has his or her turn on Santa’s knee in front of the huge Christmas tree to “talk things over” with the big guy, have a souvenir picture taken.

Afterward they have the opportunity to make some holiday crafts for the whole family. Then the children and their parents will have the gifts home to open on Christmas Day.

OCC. provides this Christmas magic for disadvantaged children in Botetourt County through a partnership with the Botetourt County Department of Social Services.

This year some 25 children will have an unexpected, wonderful Christmas experience. They will join the previous 293 Botetourt children in 149 families who have had Christmas wishes come true over the past nine years thanks to a group of great volunteers and contributors.

The Joneses say, “Operation Christmas Cheer is truly blessed to have the donations and volunteers to accomplish all it does.  OCC is beyond grateful for the dedication and generosity of all involved. We have Angels among us.”

This special event is accomplished through 100 percent volunteer labor and monetary donations from individuals and very generous area companies, the Joneses said. This is strictly a volunteer organization through and through. The Operation Christmas Cheer donors and volunteers make the lives of children and their families a little merrier when they may otherwise have little to be merry about at Christmas.

Operation Christmas Cheer has been nominated for a Roanoke Regional Chamber Small Business Award in the Category of Not-For-Profit Health & Human Services in 2010 and 2011 through 2016.

Planning for the party each December begins many months ahead of time, and the Joneses are always looking for new “angels” to help make the 10th anniversary party the best ever.

Donations are tax deductible and can be made out to Operation Christmas Cheer Inc. at mailed to P.O. Box 115, Fincastle, 24090 or via operationchristmascheer.org.

You can contact OCC to volunteer your time at (540) 798-1653. Bob and Wendy Jones are president and vice-president, respectively. The Joneses say the community’s continued support is appreciated more than folks can imagine.

Inco-Check