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Operation Toy Lift Next Saturday in St. Clairsville

File Photo – Jaxson Rine helps law enforcement during the 2019 Operation Toy Lift. The public has the opportunity to play Santa Claus for Ohio Valley children this week by taking part.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Volunteers will go to great heights on Dec. 5 to help make Christmas a little brighter for local youth.

The fourth annual Operation Toy Lift gets underway at 10 a.m. next Saturday in the Ohio Valley Mall parking lot in St. Clairsville. Law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Ohio River are teaming to organize the event, which aims to collect Christmas gifts for less fortunate children in the Ohio Valley.

While many people began their Christmas shopping on Black Friday, area residents are also asked to consider “playing Santa” for Ohio Valley children who might not otherwise have a merry Christmas. Donors can simply buy a new toy — appropriate for children of any age from infant to teen — and bring it to the parking lot on Saturday. Donation drop-offs will be accepted in the parking lot across from Ferguson’s House of Furniture.

The theme for Operation Toy Lift continues to be “Raising Hope for Kids in the Ohio Valley.”

Chief Deputy James Zusack with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office said safety will be prioritized due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he added that Operation Toy Lift has always been an outdoor event and, as a result, is held in a naturally safer venue.

All workers and volunteers taking part in the operation will be following local COVID-19 health guidelines, he said, and will be wearing masks at the drop-off site. Those wishing to donate can simply hand the donation out their vehicle window or put the donation in their trunk so there is little to no contact with volunteers collecting the toys.

“It’s from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ohio Valley Mall. We’re partnered up with Wheeling Police Department,” Zusack said. “We’re going to maintain all the social distancing and all the stuff the health department wants us to do. It’s an outdoor event. People can drive up and drop off a toy to us, and we distribute those toys to children throughout the Ohio Valley.”

“This is our fourth year of doing it. We’ve been very successful in the last three years, so hopefully this week is as successful,” he said.

Wheeling Police public information officer Philip Stahl said that raising hope for children and families in the region is even more important this holiday season.

“We’re really hoping to push the message this year because of how the pandemic really has pressed everyone’s life in terms of people needing things for Christmas or just obtaining basic needs,” Stahl said.

Law enforcement officers at times find families in tough or traumatic situations. Stahl said it warms officers’ hearts when they can help bring joy to those needing it.

“The feeling of knowing this is going to brighten someone’s day is really what this is all about,” Stahl said.

Zusack declined to speculate on whether donations will be as plentiful as in previous years, but he hopes the public shows its generosity this year.

“We’re going to keep doing what we can do to help out the kids in the Ohio Valley. We won’t know ’til Saturday,” he said.

Various local community members will also be participating in the event. They will be raised high above the lot in a mechanical lift, where they can wave to passersby and attract attention for the toy collection. Toys will be distributed to those in need through the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley.

Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation to the effort can write a check to the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley and write “Toy Lift” on the memo line.

For a second year, Operation Toy Lift hopes to feature a friendly competition among schools in Belmont, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties. Each has been challenged to raise funds during the month of November that will be donated to the United Way and Operation Toy Lift. The school that raises the most money from Ohio and the school that raises the most in West Virginia will be presented a trophy to keep for one year. In addition to the trophy, the winning school will be represented by their superintendent, principal or designee in the lift on the day of the event. However, with COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning, this contest may be delayed until the 2021 school year.

This year’s participants in Operation Toy Lift are:

10-10:30 a.m. — David Bloomquist, 1170 WWVA-AM

10:30-11 a.m. — Robert Thomas, Thomas Auto Center

11-11:30 a.m. — Chief Deputy James Zusack, Belmont County Sheriff’s Office

11:30 a.m. to noon — Jeff Felton, Belmont County Department of Job & Family Services

Noon to 12:30 p.m. — Taylor Long, WTRF-TV

12:30-1 p.m. — Chief Larry Helms, Wheeling Fire Department

1-1:30 p.m. — Chad Thalman, Wheeling City Council

1:30-2 p.m. — Jennifer Compston-Strough, The Times Leader

2-2:30 p.m. Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas

2:30-3 p.m. — Rich Lucas, Main Street Bank

3-3:30 p.m. — West Virginia school contest winner

3:30-4 p.m. — Ohio school contest winner

In addition to the law enforcement agencies, partners for this year’s event include the city of Wheeling, Wheeling Fire Department, Cumberland Trail Fire District, Belmont County Student Services, United Way for the Upper Ohio Valley, Ohio Valley Mall, Boscov’s, iHeartRadio, Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association, Bill’s Towing, Information Helpline, Tricor, American Electric Power, A Special Wish Foundation, ICR Equipment Rental and WTRF-TV.

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