STEVENSVILLE — Very early Wednesday morning, Dec. 22, staff from Chesapeake Charities, Inc., departed Stevensville, and drove to western Kentucky — an area that was especially devastated by tornadoes the week of December 8. Known as “Operation Christmas Cookie”, Chesapeake Charities posted across social and local news media asking for assistance in providing “a human touch” by bringing as much Christmas cheer as possible to those who were hurt most by the destructive storms.

Chesapeake Charities Executive Director Linda Kohler was among those who went to Kentucky. She said, “We wanted to let the people there know that we care for them, and want to help in whatever ways we can.” Kohler added, “This was not meant to be a one-time mission. We went to make contacts and keep in touch with the people there to have them let us know what we can continue to do to help them in their long-term recovery.”

The message for donations to the Eastern Shore went out just a few days before the trip, and amazingly, the response, according to Kohler, was overwhelming! She said, “With the help of the Kent Island High School Boys Lacrosse team, we completely filled the 48-foot cargo portion of a tractor trailer in about 30-minutes. The help from the team was fantastic!”

Chesapeake Charities Board Chair Audrey Scott was also present during the loading. She said, “I’m so glad I could witness this outpouring of love, pickup trucks kept arriving, one after another bringing cookies, toys, and clothes for these people in Kentucky. It was very emotional and moving to see it!”

She added, “You know, we just wanted to take them Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, but it quickly grew in much more. And these were ordinary people bringing these things, not wealthy people. Watching how much people from our area cared was the best Christmas gift anyone could have given me.”

Kohler’s longtime friend, Lucy Kruse of Kent Island accompanied Kohler on the trip. Kruse, who always has a busy schedule, surprisingly had open dates to help with the cause in providing relief and comfort to people in Kentucky. Kruse said, “God must have wanted me to be there!”

Thursday, Dec. 22, the trailer arrived in Benton, KY, and unloaded about half its cookies, toys, clothes and blankets as directed by state officials coordinating such efforts within the state to Calvary Baptist Church, whose gymnasium/multi-purpose room had been converted into a temporary warehouse for goods local people devastated by the tornadoes could come to take what they needed.

There, Kohler and Kruse met church volunteer Barbara Oliver. Kruse said, “Though recovering from a serious automobile accident months before, Barbara was right there in the church kitchen serving volunteers who were helping with relief work. Her combination of southern charm, hugs and ‘bless yous’ to everyone warmed our hearts.”

The second day, Dec. 23, they traveled to Princeton, KY, not far from Mayfield, one of the hardest hit cities. They unloaded the remaining items at an American Red Cross location. Children came with their parents to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, and picked up Christmas gifts. There, the last of the delicious homemade cookies from the Eastern Shore were handed out.

Kohler said of the whirlwind trip, “The greatest gift we gave the people we met — was listening! We let them talk about what they had experienced. Clearly, they had been traumatized. They needed to talk to someone who cared. I think that was the best thing we could have done for them.”

“We were told by many”, Kohler added, “not to send anymore food or clothing. They have enough of that right now, and nowhere to store anymore of it. What they need right now is chain saws. And, we’ve made friends there. They told us they’re going to need help to rebuild starting in the spring. We’re going to help provide the needs the government won’t provide when spring arrives. We’re staying in touch with the folks there.”

Country music singer Chris Stapleton is planning to host an outdoor concert in Mayfield in the spring to raise funds to help those who had no insurance rebuild, many of those farmers, who were totally wiped out. Stapleton has already donated $50,000. Also, the Thoroughbred Horse Association of Kentucky has donated half-a-million dollars to help farmers recover.

Much more money will be needed in 2022 as people rebuild.

The mission statement of Chesapeake Charities is: “To provide innovative leadership and quality services that encourage charitable giving, build community resources, and enable donors to achieve their charitable purposes, making lasting investments in the Chesapeake region”. Clearly, on this occasion, “Chesapeake region” can be expanded during national emergencies.

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