Empty Stocking Fund near midway of goal

By RICK NORTON
Posted 12/5/18

Still two days away from Friday’s festive Grand Finale, the annual Empty Stocking Fund is approaching the midway point of its $100,001 goal.After Tuesday morning’s live broadcast at Chick-fil-A, …

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Empty Stocking Fund near midway of goal

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Still two days away from Friday’s festive Grand Finale, the annual Empty Stocking Fund is approaching the midway point of its $100,001 goal.

After Tuesday morning’s live broadcast at Chick-fil-A, the community fundraiser had hit $47,264.63 in donations and pledges.

Traditionally, the Friday closer to the 10-day campaign — hosted by Life Care Centers of America in a four-hour Yuletide blitz from 6 to 10 a.m. — is the drive’s heaviest hitter.

To date, the initiative has been supported by a wide swath of donors who not only are opening their checkbooks, but also their hearts to serve as unpaid volunteers who are doing the shopping and gift-wrapping for the event that will culminate with a giant Cleveland Christmas Party for Children at Ocoee Middle School.

This year, churches are also getting on board.

“We have been so pleased with the churches that have come forward this year to help with our cause,” said Steve Hartline, owner of WCLE My Mix 104.1, which for years has served as the Empty Stocking Fund facilitator.

Hartline is the grandson of the late Rev. M.E. and Mrs. Littlefield who founded the Cleveland Christmas Party for Children in the 1940s. Hartline and his wife, Jennifer, have kept that tradition alive by continuing to help organize the mega-gathering for children.

Three years ago, Christmas Party organizers merged their event with two other community initiatives: Creating Christmas Memories, founded by Cleveland businesswoman and philanthropist Brenda Lawson and her family in 1995, and the originally named Empty Stocking Fund, founded locally in 1975 by Tom and Sandra Rowland, and the late George R. “Bobby” Taylor.

The original Empty Stocking Fund supported different community causes upon its birth; however, the campaign eventually embraced Littlefield’s Christmas Party and became its principal fundraising entity.

Hartline spoke on the diversity of support today’s Empty Stocking Fund receives, and how it operates.

“This program touches so many people,” he said. “Teachers in our city and county school systems help us to identify children in need from pre-school through fifth grade. Their ‘wish lists’ are filled out and hundreds of volunteers shop and wrap the gifts.”

He added, “Any infant or toddler siblings, or older siblings, who are in middle or high school also receive gifts. So, we try to cover an entire family of children who have siblings in the local schools. We are touching lives across this community and could not ask for better support than we are receiving this year.”

Tuesday’s live remote by WCLE broadcasters, and guest commentators, showed the kind of broad base of support the Empty Stocking Fund enjoys. At the Chick-fil-A broadcast alone:

• Cleveland Chief of Police Mark Gibson and Sgt. Evie West presented a $2,440 donation from the Cleveland Police Department. These funds were proceeds raised from the department’s “No Shave November” campaign.

• Chick-fil-A owners Steve and Karen Colley kicked off the event with a $1,000 donation.

• Lee Stewart of Southern Heritage Bank gave a $500 personal donation on behalf of he and his wife, Cynthia; and then gave a donation of $500 on behalf of the bank.

• Pastor Mickey Clark of Cross Roads Church gave a donation of $3,428.07 on behalf of his church congregation. The church is also providing a large number of volunteers who are shopping and wrapping gifts, and will be on hand for the Christmas Party for Children on Saturday, Dec. 15.

Two other churches — Mount Olive Ministries and Living Water Church — have also committed to an offering from their congregations, with all proceeds to support the Empty Stocking Fund.

Big on tradition but always looking for new ways to involve the Cleveland and Bradley County community, the radio station’s live remotes will continue Thursday at the Town House Bake Shop on Keith Street from 7 to 9 a.m.

“Our very first donors to the Empty Stocking Fund were members of the Gilbert family,” said Mayor Emeritus Tom Rowland, who once owned WCLE radio. “So, it’s tradition that we visit the sweet shop each year with the Gilberts and keep that legacy alive.”

Another big event coming Thursday evening is making its second appearance. To be hosted by Don Ledford Automotive Center from 6 to 8 p.m., the dealership’s parking lot will serve as a jail site for a Jail’n Bail event featuring Hartline and The Grinch. Donors will determine how long Hartline stays imprisoned with the green fiend.

“People are encouraged to come to Don Ledford Automotive Center and have some fun with The Grinch and Steve Hartline,” Lawson chuckled. “Last year, we raised a lot of money from friends and foes of Steve and the Grinch. Steve’s mother and family even came through with donations to keep him confined for a while. It was a fun night last year, and promises to be again this time.”

Hartline praised the involvement of car dealership owner Debbie Ledford Melton.

“Debbie has opened her business to us for many worthy causes,” Hartline said. “We cannot say enough about her, her family, her employees and her customers. Whether we are needing items for disaster relief, school supplies, donations for the American Cancer Society or funds for the Empty Stocking Fund, they are always front and center when it comes to helping us.”

After Thursday night’s cold temperatures turn Hartline as green as The Grinch, the Empty Stocking Fund crew will be looking to the next morning.

“Our Grand Finale on Friday morning at Life Care Centers of America always proves to be an exciting time,” Rowland said. “This has also become a tradition for us. Each year, Life Care opens their doors and hearts to our program, and they always help us go over the top with their donations from employees.”

The former Cleveland mayor of 28 years added, “Many, many individuals and organizations also coming in during the Friday morning Grand Finale to make their donations, and also to enjoy some great music and food.”

Student choirs from Cleveland High School, Walker Valley High School, Tennessee Christian Preparatory School and Lake Forest Middle School will be performing.

Rowland looked ahead to the Dec. 15 Christmas Party.

“That’s when we see the fruits of our labor,” the civic-minded mayor emeritus stressed. “The smiles on the faces of the children and the gratitude from parents, grandparents and guardians will bring tears to your eyes. Some of them will share stories with us about what the program has meant to them through the years.”

He added, “We are seeing parents and grandparents who were helped as children and now who are giving back to help others. That is always rewarding.”

Of the late Rev. Littlefield’s influence, Rowland spoke of his friendship with Hartline’s grandfather.

“He was my dear friend,” Rowland said. “He always reminded us of Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive. Year in and year out, we find those words to hold true. They come alive for us at Christmastime in ‘The City With Spirit,’ where it’s still OK to say ‘Merry Christmas!’”

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