By BRIAN GRAVES
The image of a child without a gift to unwrap at Christmas is heartbreaking.But, due to the efforts of the Empty Stocking Fund thousands of area children have been able to avoid that feeling of being …
The image of a child without a gift to unwrap at Christmas is heartbreaking.
But, due to the efforts of the Empty Stocking Fund thousands of area children have been able to avoid that feeling of being left out.
That is because of the yearly generosity of thousands of donors who give to the cause every year in an effort to make sure Christmas is the bright, and joyful holiday it is meant to be.
"It started in the early 1970s, and we had a request from the Coast Guard Auxiliary who needed to raise around $600 for foster parents," said Mayor Tom Rowland. "It seemed like a big goal, but we raised about $700. It just kept growing and growing."
Last year, the reach extended to McMinn and Polk counties after the tornadoes ravaged those areas, leaving many families homeless during the holiday season.
Brenda Lawson had been involved with "Creating Christmas Memories" with the Pilot Club since 1995, a program which would take children shopping.
"Sandra and I were talking, then we talked to Steve, and decided it was time to put all of these organizations together," Lawson recalled. "It has been a really good thing and we have been able to help a lot of children. The community has been wonderful in always stepping up to help us."
Lawson said the donations buy toys and clothes for as many as 1,600 kids a year depending on how many apply through the school systems.
One of the most heartwarming things is what many of the kids ask for.
"When we used to take the kids shopping, you would be surprised at how many of the kids wanted to buy things for their mothers and other family members," Lawson said. "We did allow them to do that because one thing we hoped is teaching them how to give. You would be surprised how many would buy milk, bread or toilet paper."
These days, all of the presents are wrapped and distributed during a major party at Ocoee Middle School.
"What a tremendous help our high school, Lee and Cleveland State students are in getting the shopping and wrapping done," Lawson said. "What an effort they give us and without them we really could not do this program."
At the giant Christmas party, the kids are in one space playing games, while their family members are packing away their gifts to be placed under their Christmas trees at home.
WCLE's Steve Hartline remembers it was his grandfather, the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, who began the party tradition in the late 1940s.
"He would literally deliver toys out of the trunk of his car," Hartline said. "The stores would give him what they did not sell on Christmas Eve."
Hartline said it was the Rowlands who had the idea to have the Empty Stocking Fund go toward the original Christmas Party for Children.
"We have gained a lot of partners over the years," Rowland said.
WCLE will kick off its annual drive on Monday, Nov. 27, and it will be like no other the station has tried before.
"Nine out of ten mornings, we will be on the road this year," Hartline said. "We will kick off at the Church of God headquarters on Nov. 27. We will be at a new partner, Athens Federal, on the 29th. On Nov. 30, we will be at the YMCA. On Friday, Dec. 1, we will be at the Holiday Inn Express. A new stop on the schedule will be Chick-fil-A on Monday, Dec. 4. Then, Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Starbucks. We'll be at Ocoee Middle School on Wednesday, Dec. 6. On Thursday, Dec. 7, we'll be at the Town House Bake Shop. We then wrap it up as always at Life Care on Friday, Dec. 8."
There will be a very special evening in the midst of all of the traveling for the fund.
Danny Murray, director of the beloved "Voices of Lee," announced the vocal ensemble has released its first Christmas CD in 20 years.
"It has been three years since we have done a Christmas concert, so we thought it was a good time with a brand new release of our a cappella Christmas album," Murray said. "These are ten brand new songs, produced by Gordon Mote [pianist with the Gaither Vocal Band]. We are excited about that and we wanted to be a part of the Empty Stocking Fund."
"So, we have planned a concert for Wednesday, Dec. 6, at Pangle Hall," Murray said. "If you buy a $10 ticket, by calling 614-8320, you will get a free CD that night and $5 will go to the Empty Stocking Fund."
Murray said the CD has a bonus track of "What A Beautiful Name," which has been viewed on YouTube more than 40 million times.
Last year's Empty Stocking Fund efforts raised $80,000.
"We want one dollar more," Rowland said.
"No, let's go for $1,000 more," Lawson interjected.
"We have a caring community, no doubt about it," the mayor said. "When the need arises, they come forward.
"Sandra and I were talking, then we talked to Steve, and decided it was time to put all of these organizations together. It has been a really good thing and we have been able to help a lot of children. The community has been wonderful in always stepping up to help us." — Brenda Lawson
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