Monday night union members and a youth group from Springview Baptist Church gathered at the union hall in Alcoa to wrap presents. The women in the group had spearheaded an effort to raise more than $8,000 among Alcoa, Inc., union members, both males and females, to buy presents and clothing for youngsters in the Relative Caregiver program.
Children in the Relative Caregiver Program are children who are being raised by relatives other than their parents. Union member Brenda LeQuire said she has supported the program for more than three years as a way to keep children with relatives rather than putting them in foster homes.
"The relatives give children love and preserve their heritage," she said.
LeQuire supports the state Eastern Division of the state Relative Caregiver program. Statewide there are 137,000 children being raised by someone other than their parents. The funds union members raised bought presents for children and youth in Blount, Loudon, Monroe and Roane counties, she said.
In early November LeQuire went before the union board to ask permission to raise money to help youngsters in the RCG by raising money among union members at both the North and the South plants, and the idea took hold with members. Initially she thought they would be able to get gifts for 10 to 15 children, but ended up raising enough to help 98, LeQuire said.
LeQuire said stores like Kmart and Goodys Family Clothing in Maryville and Wal-Mart in Madisonville helped by giving discounts.
LeQuire thanked several members of the Women of Steel for their work. She recognized Juretta Williams, Tammy Wilson, Pam Neubert, Yvonne Pickens, Midge McKelvey, Jennifer Myers, Robin Simpson and Debbie Kerr for their work.
Friday night is the big night when the children gather at the union hall to get their gifts from Santa. Everyone expects an exciting and emotional time.
"This has been fun to know we can make a difference," Juretta Williams said. "In East Tennessee, not everybody was born rich or comfortable. It makes a difference to know these children will have a Christmas."
Jennifer Myers said she and the other ladies simply walked up to employees throughout the plants and told them who they were collecting for children at or below the poverty level, and response was positive. "They were really receptive," she said. "We had $100 bills given at times."
The youth at the event seemed in the Christmas spirit as they worked. Dylan Welch said the effort was an opportunity to help less fortunate. "It was a chance to give people who dont have anything something for Christmas," he said.
Michael Fritz said he felt good about the effort. "I always had Christmas," he said. "I never was near poverty. Im glad to give someone the chance to have Christmas like I had."
Amanda Snider said she enjoys doing mission work. "This is a great way to do it," she said. "This is a great way to bring kids to the Lord."
Josh Owens was impressed with the fund raising efforts. "Its great how much money they raised," he said.
Stephanie Gladden, 18, said helping others this Christmas had special significance for her because of where she was last Christmas season. She suffered from Toxic Shock Syndrome and spent 180 days in the hospital last year.
"I have a lot to be thankful for," said Gladden. "They didnt think I would live, so Ive got a lot to be thankful for."