WELLSBURG - A long-time Brooke County tradition of helping to bring Christmas cheer to less fortunate families is continuing through the efforts of the family of Bernie Kazienko and many others.
The late sheriff and county commissioner was known for spearheading a yearly Christmas drive with the help of family, friends, local churches, schools and businesses and many others.
Though the endeavor became known as Bernie's Kids, Kazienko always stressed it was a team effort inspired by his late uncle, Hillman "Izzy" Isinghood, who collected and repaired old toys for underprivileged children.
When Kazienko died of cancer last December, his son, Kirk, and others stepped in to carry on the toy drive and the family tradition continues this year.
"This was the best way to keep my dad's spirit alive and do something beneficial for the community," said Kirk.
He said donations of toys are being accepted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the Wellsburg Elks Lodge at 834 Charles St. as the group prepares to distribute gifts and some requests for coats and hats on Friday.
Kazienko said the group welcomes new or very gently used toys, as they don't want to send parents away with toys that are broken or missing parts.
He said the group expects to provide gifts to about 100 children this year and any monetary donations not needed this year will be applied to next year's effort.
For information, e-mail Kazienko at email@example.com or visit Bernie's Kids on Facebook.
Kazienko said friends, old and new, have come together to make this year's effort a success.
"Our biggest donor this year was Bethany College, which raised over $1,600 for us during its Christmas lightup night," he said.
Kazienko added the Brooke High School Leo Club has again lent a hand, collecting donations of toys during the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade while riding a flatbed truck supplied by Robert Scott Lumber.
Led by adviser Emily Beall, the club also is collecting toys at the school.
Kazienko said members of St. John Catholic Church provided a truckload of toys under the direction of parishioner Mary Margaret Rosso.
Bernie was a member of the church, and it has been a long-time supporter of the cause.
Kirk said he and others behind the toy drive hope to bring to struggling families a little Christmas joy like that experienced by his father.
He recalled the toy drive was something his father always enjoyed, and he would go about shopping for toys himself.
"He was like a kid. His eyes would light up. It was something he looked forward to all year long," he said.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)