FAIRMONT — Seeing people struggle to pay bills throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Zach Taylor started looking ahead toward the holiday season, when people may have trouble buying gifts for their kids and families.

Taylor, a council representative member of Fairmont State University’s Student Government Association, said he didn’t want to just stand by while people struggled to get by, so he organized a new initiative through the school called Christmas with a Falcon in order to collect donations to help distribute toys to families needing help.

“SGA always helps with Toys for Tots, but they weren’t doing it this year, so we had to find something to fill that hole,” Taylor said. “Especially in this time, a lot of families that were struggling before are really struggling now, so we came up with this idea just to give back to our communities.”

Taylor also plays in Fairmont State’s marching band, which helped kick off the holiday season at the university Wednesday by playing at a holiday tree decorating event outside the Falcon Center. Mirta Martin, president of Fairmont State University, said the event was a way of brightening the lives of students, who have faced challenges this school year they have never seen before.

“The pandemic has taken so many memorable events and so many people, and I’m determined that we are going to make (the holidays) as normal as humanly possible for our students and our faculty, our staff and our community,” Martin said. “This is the beginning. Christmas is a time of hope, it’s a time of rebirth, it’s a time of new beginnings, and I’m hoping that this small demonstration will instill that hope and that compassion and that kindness and that spirit of generosity in people.”

Martin said she is proud to see a student instigate the Christmas with a Falcon initiative, because it demonstrates the real reason for Christmas: Giving.

“While Christmas is a time for family to be together to celebrate the season, to celebrate each other, there’s also an aspect that through the years has made Christmas commercialized, right, wrong or indifferent,” Martin said. “The idea that especially for young children they are looking for Santa Claus to bring them something on Christmas morning to wake up, it doesn’t have to be a lot, it’s just a little present.”

Students gathered around an evergreen tree on campus Wednesday to hear the marching band and then place an ornament on the tree. Frankie Delapas, president of Fairmont State’s Student Government Association, said he was glad the university held an event to commemorate the coming wrap up of the semester, seeing that many students have been having a difficult time.

“I think it’s important to celebrate the holiday season right now because it has been a hard year for everyone,” Delapas said. “Here at Fairmont State, we want our students to be happy, and I think this event kind of boosts people’s spirits, especially around finals.”

The semester began later than usual at Fairmont State due to the coronavirus pandemic, and students had to live on a campus closed to the public while wearing face masks at all times in common areas. Delapas said despite these changes, the semester has been going well thanks to the cooperation of all the students.

“On campus, it obviously wasn’t normal, but we tried to create an atmosphere that made everyone feel comfortable,” Delapas said. “The gym is open, the restaurants are open, Chick-fil-A is open, but with that being said, we still enforce the mask policy and social distancing. But I think everyone felt pretty comfortable this year, and luckily we had a pretty successful run.”

Delapas, too, is in support of the Christmas with a Falcon initiative. Knowing of the challenges students faced because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said he believes parents trying to buy presents for their kids likely have it even harder.

“This year a lot of families have been affected by the coronavirus, and as Student Government, we wanted to help out the Marion County community by doing something that could help families,” Delapas said. “One way that a lot of families are going to be affected this year is Christmas, because a lot of families were financially affected by what was going on. We want to help those families out by giving kids the ability to have something to open on Christmas.”

According to Taylor, when the SGA was organizing the initiative, they approached Marion County Schools to get a list of families who have kids in need for the holiday season. With 165 kids to buy presents for, Taylor said the SGA has set a fund raising goal of $16,500, and will match 50 percent of every donation made to the drive through the university.

“The schools have actually given us a detailed list of these students that are in need,” Taylor said. “We have access to go and get them exactly what they want, exactly what they need — we have their coat sizes and stuff like that — so we’re asking for monetary donations and that way we can really specify the gift.”

Taylor said once the money begins coming in, the members of SGA will head to stores to purchase the gifts specifically requested by the kids on the list.

Martin said the initiative shows the character of the students on Fairmont State’s campus as they are essentially becoming Santa Claus through this drive to more than 100 children.

“This Christmas with a Falcon underscores the university’s commitment to our community, and the fact that it’s you, it’s children, is very important to us,” Martin said. “We want to be able to be a very small and very silent part of what’s going to happen on Christmas morning when that child wakes up.”

Taylor said he believes it is important for all kids to get a present on Christmas, because it gives them a time of the year to look forward to every trip around the sun. Additionally, the students on campus get to obtain the feeling of giving during the season, giving everyone a good experience.

“Christmas is a really important time, and kids who wake up with nothing under the tree, they lose that sense of value,” Taylor said. “If we can give that to them with this — we actually provide the students something to give as a gift and they get that spirit of giving — they get that value instilled in them that giving is better than receiving, then they have something to wake up to on Christmas day. Because honestly, they deserve it.”

To donate to the Christmas with a Falcon drive, visit www.fsufoundation.org/giving/give, and write “Christmas with a falcon in the donation comment section, or call Taylor at 304-880-6015.

Email Eddie Trizzino at etrizzino@timeswv.com and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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News Reporter

Eddie Trizzino has been a reporter with the Times West Virginian since August of 2017, covering the entertainment, business and health beats. He spends most of his time listening to records, going to the movies and strolling through the town.

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