Gov. Joe Manchin and First Lady Gayle Manchin recently hosted a holiday open house allowing the public to come inside and enjoy the holiday decor at the Governor's Mansion.

By GAYLE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- Our family celebrated Thanksgiving this year in beautiful Canaan Valley.

Family members all arrived on Wednesday evening from varied points in and out of the state. By Friday, we awoke to a blanket of white snow on everything-a testimony to the beauty of our state and the peacefulness that comes from looking out on a winter wonderland.

Joe has said many times, "If we have blessings, then we have blessings to share." At our Thanksgiving dinner, we remembered those who were without their loved ones, those who were missing from our table, and for those family members, who serve our country, who could not be together for the reunion. Our conversation later moved to Christmas and plans that needed to be made, presents that needed to be bought, and an even bigger conversation around what we could do for others, individually and collectively.

Christmas brings friends and family, neighbors and acquaintances together to celebrate the season not only with cheer and laughter but also with faith and hope. It's the time of the year that opening our hearts can go a very long way in spreading help and happiness to others. Hopefully, these are a few ideas your family might adopt as a new holiday tradition of sharing the joy of giving.

One opportunity is through Toys for Tots, a nationwide program organized by the Marines that gives thousands of toys to children in need. Another national and local program is the Salvation Army's "Angel Tree," which provides much-needed clothing items, special needs gifts and other wished-for toys to our neediest children. In addition, the Salvation Army "Bell Ringers" are as much a part of the season as Santa Claus!

Programs like 'Shop with a Cop" offer children of all ages the opportunity to actually select their gifts with donations made, from families in the community, to local police detachments. Many local organizations around the state plan special Christmas parties for children, in the community, who will not have Christmas at home.

Every community has shelters, children's homes, and an array of agencies who serve our neediest citizens every day; therefore, I encourage each of you to choose a program, a home, a family, or one child to add to your Christmas list. It is not just about money; it can be sharing time, preparing a meal, packing food boxes, collecting for clothing drives-your blessings to others can come in your own unique way.

My special gift to my six grandchildren is a donation, in each of their names, to the Children's Home Society of West Virginia. These gifts give my grandchildren "food for their soul," but for those children served by the Children's Home Society, it truly gives them hope of a brighter future, and the reassurance that someone does indeed care about them.

As you share your blessings with others, you are assuring that many families in West Virginia will have a more blessed Christmas and a healthier, happier New Year!

Joe and I wish peace and joy to you and your families during this beautiful season.

Manchin is West Virginia's First Lady.

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