Christmas Mother program spreads joy
Much of Blanche Moore’s life has been about helping others. Her parents both believed in giving to others, and they started encouraging her to volunteer when she was just eight years old.
“My heart is full when helping others,” Moore said.
For her devoted volunteer work, Moore was named this year’s Henrico Christmas Mother — the honorary leader of a longtime program that provides low-income families and individuals with gifts and food items for the holidays.
December is a busy month for the Christmas Mother program, which dates back to 1942. While her position involves year-round responsibility to generate community awareness of the program and encourage donations, Moore says the most exciting time of her year is early December.
That’s when it all comes together, and she can watch parents “shop” for the holidays in the program’s free warehouse. First, parents choose new books for their child, then clothing, toys (organized by age), and finally a food basket based on the number of people in their family.
Moore, who has volunteered with the program for six years, recalls helping a single mother with six children go through the warehouse.
“She said to me, ‘You have no idea, no idea what this means to me. You have helped me provide for my children.’ She wrapped her arms around me and cried,” Moore recalled.
But the Christmas Mother Program is not just for children. People age 65 and older, or disabled adults, can apply if they live at or below the federal poverty level. Persons in these categories will be assisted in choosing new bedding, clothing and a food basket.
Origins of the program
During World War II, Mittie McGraw Nelson, a teacher in Varina, Virginia, created a way to spread joy to needy families on Christmas.
Nelson asked her students, their parents and friends to collect and donate clothes, toys and canned goods. The items were then distributed to local families in need.
Nelson’s program later grew to cover all Henrico County. Today, there are Christmas Mother Programs in Richmond, Chesterfield-Colonial Heights and other cities and counties, which help thousands of families.
While the Henrico program is funded by donations, it is also assisted by Henrico County, which provides storage space for gifts and food, as well as help from county employees and police. The school system gathers the food for donation.
Finding time to help others
Through her career — while working for companies such as IBM, GE, Job Corps and Henrico County Public Schools, and caring for her two children — Moore found time to volunteer at multiple charities.
Some of the organizations Moore has been involved with include Senior Connections — The Capital Area Agency on Aging, and First Shiloh Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, where she worked with youth and finance ministries.
She attends St. Peter Baptist Church in Glen Allen and assists with its evangelism ministry, missions and homeless outreach.
In 2015, Moore retired from her position with Henrico County Schools, where she worked with the Title I program — a federally-funded program designed to improve academic achievement of disadvantaged students.
With more free time, she began looking around for volunteer work. A friend of a friend suggested she contact the Henrico Christmas Mother program.
In the six years since she started volunteering with the program, Moore has held several leadership positions with its managing council — a group of volunteers who speak to groups to encourage donations and collect the toys, clothes and food that are distributed.
Moore has also worked as recording secretary, historian and co-chair of the books committee. But she was “totally shocked” and pleased when asked to be this year’s Christmas Mother.
She started working on the project last February. “Being Christmas Mother is very time consuming,” she said on a Henrico County podcast in November.
For example, in the past month alone Moore has spoken about the Henrico Christmas Mother Program at Rotary, Ruritan and Lion’s Club meetings, at the Junior Achievement Cotillion, the Dominion Club, Ridge Baptist Church, and several women’s club meetings.
Moore wants to increase the program’s visibility so that more Henrico citizens become involved. This year’s goal is to serve 1,700 individuals. She is eager to present the program to any interested group.
She and her husband, Dr. Roland Moore, have lived in Henrico County for 48 years. Both are alumni of Virginia Union University.
They have two children and four grandchildren who range in age from 6 to 21. Her 16-year-old granddaughter is excited about becoming a volunteer and helping Moore in her new role.
“There’s a lot of dignity in the way that we handle giving to our clients,” Moore said on the podcast. “When you see them come to the warehouse to receive what we give, they are just so thankful.”
How to apply or help out
Applications for the program’s benefits are available at many Henrico County agencies, schools and libraries. You can download an application at henricochristmasmother.org or leave a voicemail at (804) 236-9741.
The Henrico Christmas Mother program is also seeking additional volunteers and donations. Call (804) 236-9741, visit henricochristmasmother.org or its Facebook page at @HenricoChristmasMother, or write to the group at P.O. Box 70338, Henrico, VA 23255.