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Santa wears a hard hat

COFIELD – Navigation was tight earlier this month along the main hallway of the Rolling & Finishing office on the grounds of the sprawling Nucor Steel Mill near here.

Bicycles of all shapes, sizes and colors lined that hallway. Meanwhile, in the front lobby of the office, other gifts were piled under a Christmas tree, so many that extra space was needed along a wall adjacent to the front door.

Such is another year of “giving” from these hard-working Nucor employees as they have made it an annual effort to help the less fortunate in Hertford County.

Over the past 14 years, Nucor’s Rolling & Finishing Department – joined by their co-workers in the Shipping Office and the Rail Crew – have participated in an “Angel Tree” program offered through the Hertford County Department of Social Service.

“It all started that first year with DSS giving us a list of their ‘angels – local children from needy families,” said Chenita Hall, a 15-year Nucor employee who serves as Department Clerk in Rolling & Finishing. “Everybody was in agreement to take up money and send me off on a shopping spree to purchase the gifts on the list.”

Hall said a few of the employees still go out and purchase gifts as noted on the ‘Angel Tree’ list, but, for the most part, money is donated and she shops for the entire group.

All totaled, there are 100 employees in the Rolling and Finishing Department; 80 in the Shipping Office and 10 on the Rail Crew. The money collected ($4,000) will help provide “Santa” for 88 children this year.

“We do not ask for a minimum or a maximum amount; it’s up to the individual employee what they want to give from their heart,” noted Hall.

A portion of the money is generated through funds raised from the Rolling & Finishing Department’s “Cuss Can.”

“We started this (Cuss Can) about eight years ago as we had a few individuals who would use some spicy language every now and then,” said 15-year Nucor employee Val Godwin who works as a Finishing Technician. “Every time you say a word that you shouldn’t you had to put 25 cents in the can. With inflation like it is, the price is now 50 cents per cuss word.”

In its first year, the “Can” collected $200.

“We had initially agreed to use that money to throw ourselves a cookout, but we didn’t think that was right as it was like rewarding yourself for cussing,” said 16-year Nucor employee Tony Grant who works as an Inspector.

“Instead, we decided to use that money for the Angel Tree kids,” smiled Godwin.

Godwin and Grant said in the ensuing years, the Cuss Can has generated more and more funding. In 2015 that amount was $850; this year was almost double that amount ($1,500).

“Even though this originally started as a Cuss Can, it’s gotten to the point where we want to see just how much money we can raise for the Angel Tree,” Godwin remarked. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s become more of a donation can rather than a Cuss Can. Toward the end of the year the guys will really step up and donate more to the can because we all know it’s going to help needy children.”

“What we did to help increase the amount we raised was to talk to our supervisors and department manager to see if they would match what was in the can,” said Grant. “Jim Lewis (Rolling, Finishing and Heat Treat Manager) stepped up with a donation, as did other supervisors.”

“We did it out of our own pocket,” said Lewis. “It’s a team effort and every little bit helps.”

For Hall, her job really begins once the money is collected, counted and placed in her hands.

“I’ve made multiple shopping trips this year,” Hall stated.

Once she finished, Hertford County DSS comes to Nucor and collects all the gifts, to include several truckloads devoted entirely to the bicycles. DSS then distributes the gifts to the needy families on their annual list.

“We haven’t had our best year financially here at Nucor, but I feel blessed to have the job I have and I love to help out those who need it,” said Godwin. “It makes me feel good to help children. It’s nice to know that they’ll wake up on Christmas morning and find that Santa has visited.”

“It humbles you to know you work with people that have a big heart,” stressed Grant. “My co-workers have joined in to help. Some, near the end of the year, will walk up and throw $100 into the can. They are to be commended for thinking of others who are in need.”

All know that the money is benefitting a great cause.

“When you walk in our door and see all these gifts, your first thought is the smiles that will be on the faces of the children on Christmas morning,” noted Lewis. “There are other charities you can donate to at this time of the year, but you do not see what that money purchases; here we get to see that with the donations we made to the Angel Tree.”

“I’m pretty sure these gifts takes some of the burden off the parents of these children,” said Godwin. “Some of those parents want to provide Santa for their children, but are not financially able to do so.”

“It pulls at your heartstrings,” Grant remarked. “You just can’t ignore those in need, especially at this time of the year.”

Hall said her shopping list this year was primarily refined to electronic tablets, gift cards, “Frozen” and “Doc McStuffin” items along with bicycles….lots of bicycles.

“My daughter, my husband and myself spend roughly one week going out and picking up toys and bicycles,” said Hall. “We go to the Wal Mart in Ahoskie so much over the years that they have grown accustomed to seeing us there.”

On one trip alone she purchased nearly 30 bicycles.

Depending on what’s on the list to purchase, Hall said the shopping excursions also include visits to Belks, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Forever 21, Best Buy, Game Stop and others.

“I shop for bargains; I look for deals,” she said.

While Hall said she enjoys the shopping trips, they also serve another purpose for her daughter as she uses the time to get in the required community service work involved in her Honors Program at school.

“It’s a blessing to me,” Hall said. “It’s special because there is a Santa Claus. If I can bring a twinkle to someone’s eye it’s all worth it.”

Santa is indeed alive and well. When he’s not at the North Pole you can find him at the Rolling and Finishing Department at Nucor Steel of Hertford County. He’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the one wearing a hard hat.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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