By Carra Higgins
Nearly 400 miners at Republic, Empire and Pax surface mines dig coal for a living, but they’re not giving out the black lumps for Christmas.
Annually, Republic Energy Community Involvement Group, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, organizes parties for area school children. However, this year, because of the decline in the coal industry, the group did not have enough money in the budget to provide the same parties, explained Michele Davis, co-director of the Community Involvement Group.
The week before Thanksgiving, the miners working for the three Alpha Natural Resources mines were given the option of receiving their own Christmas gifts from the company or donating the money that would have purchased those gifts to provide the parties for children. Davis said the miners would rather see the children have their annual festivities.
“They’re coal miners and it’s for kids,” Davis said. “I wasn’t surprised. It’s the culture of mining.”
With the funding, the Community Involvement Group began work to plan the parties more than a month late. Davis said the group typically begins shopping for gifts and organizing the events in September. Everything came together, though, thanks to the miners’ donations; the Sophia Freewill Baptist Church Women’s Auxiliary, who wrapped gifts; and the management and employees at the Crab Orchard Walmart, who assisted with shopping. Davis said the group spends approximately $30 to $40 on each child.
The first party, which was at Sharon Dawes Elementary on Saturday, hosted approximately 500 children for a pancake breakfast, gifts and a visit from Santa, Davis said. The fun continued Wednesday at Raleigh Head Start and kept going Thursday at Scarbro Head Start.
On Saturday, 10 mine employees cooked pancakes, sausage and bacon for the children while Doug Robinson, safety director; Bryan Anderson, superintendent of Republic Mine; and Dan Skaggs, an engineer at Republic, each took on the role of Santa.
“The kids love Santa.”
Davis said all the children get to talk to Santa, have their picture taken with him and later the individual photos will be given to back to the kids to take home.
“They’re very, very appreciative,” Davis said of the kids who receive the gifts and parties. “It’s touching. They’re so excited. I enjoy watching them open the presents, but some parents don’t let them open the presents there. They make them take it home because it will be the only gift they get.”
In addition to forgoing their own gifts and sharing their time, the miners also donated toys that will be given to children at Clear Fork Elementary.
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