LUDINGTON — Just in time for Christmas, the staff of the GEO North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin made a large donation of toys to Communities Overcoming Violent Encounters.

COVE, which assists families and individuals suffering from domestic or sexual abuse, uses donations as part of its Christmas House program. The program gives COVE clients and their families a chance to come in and pick out gifts including toys, games and clothing, to give one another since their financial or safety concerns might prevent them from going shopping at a public store.

The program is available to both shelter residents and outreach clients. COVE provides several services to those not staying at the facility such as legal services and counseling.

"We get donations starting in the fall of new unwrapped gifts for everyone, from kids to adults," explained Cindy Stark, COVE's volunteer coordinator. "The kids can shop for their mom, and a mom can shop for their kids so they can all give each other something for Christmas."

West Shore Bank, West Shore Community College and Stateside Rentals all also contribute to the program, but this year it was the staff of the prison which provided the largest donation of material for the Christmas House. Dozens of toys, games and other gifts were collected by the GEO staff and delivered to COVE on Dec. 16.

"All of these donations were given by GEO North Lake Facility staff," said Ronda Hughes, the compliance administrator for the prison. "We only had two weeks and I think we did pretty well on such a short schedule."

Since the North Lake facility recently reopened this year, the staff needed to find a local organization which could advise them and offer counseling to inmates if the individuals suffered any traumatic experiences. Those staff members found COVE.

"Our facility is brand new and we needed to collaborate with COVE if, God forbid, anything happened to one of our inmates," explained GEO's IT administrator Derrick Turner. "Through working with them, we decided helping them with this toy drive would be a good way to give back to the community."

Hughes agreed of all the groups in the region, COVE was one of the most impressive and positive for the area.

"It's a local community-oriented organization which helps people get back on their feet," she said. "This seemed like a perfect opportunity to give back."

COVE gave the staff a heartfelt thanks for the donation and assured them the gifts would help give several families in need a much needed merry Christmas.

"This helps the clients who are in a bad situation and brings them together with others," remarked Stark. "There are a lot of people in need of this kind of help, but we get amazing support from the community, such as what the GEO employees are doing. It helps us continue in our mission to help people."