Valdosta Daily Times

December 24, 2013

Empty Stocking Fund makes Christmas bright for 900 children

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With only two days before the big day, the Empty Stocking ensured a bright Christmas morning for approximately 900 children Monday.

Rarely does the Empty Stocking Fund toy pickup occur so close to Christmas, but with the Outback Riders Toy Ride this past Saturday, Monday was the earliest date available for parents and family to pick up the toys, said Salvation Army Capt. Monica Nickum.

This year marked a few changes for the toy distribution. In addition to the late date, organizers also made the best of a different location.

For the past few years, the Empty Stocking toys have been distributed from a warehouse at Five Points, where the Toy Ride ends each year.

This year, the warehouse was not available which meant that the Salvation Army had to return to its Troup Street headquarters, stockpiling and distributing the toys from the facility’s gymnasium. This smaller space curtailed the number of families that could register with the Empty Stocking Fund, though Nickum signed up several emergency cases in the past few weeks.

It also meant that Salvation Army personnel and volunteers had to transport the thousands of toys donated Saturday by the motorcycle participants in the Toy Ride from Five Points to the Troup Street facility.

Casey Williams has volunteered with the Empty Stocking giveaway for four Christmases. Two big trucks brought the Toy Ride toys to the Salvation Army building Saturday. From 2-7 p.m. Sunday, Williams said she and other volunteers prepared the gymnasium for the toy pick up.

Nickum says she hopes to find a larger warehouse for distribution next year. Anyone who has a possible warehouse location should contact the Salvation Army.

Another difference is that the Salvation Army used the thousands of dollars donated to the Empty Stocking Fund to purchase children’s toys from Toys R Us. Using registered

children’s wish lists, both Nickum and Toys R Us staff shopped for all of the toys in the past few weeks.

In the past, the Salvation Army and volunteers have distributed the toys during a two-day period. This year, all of the toys were distributed in one day.

That one-day giveaway reveals that one thing has not changed. Capt. Monica Nickum still puts the army in the Salvation Army; she led the distribution with military precision. Even in the smaller space of the gymnasium, each child’s toys were arranged and inventoried in a grid.

Registered parents and family were given specific appointment times to arrive for their toys. As each person arrived and each set of toys were distributed, the grid emptied block after block, one after another.

This year, Nickum also increased the number of appointments per hour. She scheduled eight pick-ups per every six minutes. Nickum and the Salvation Army volunteers kept the people and toys moving.

Gayle Leighton has volunteered with the Empty Stocking giveaway for the past four Christmases. For Leighton, seeing parents pick up the children’s toys, seeing their thankful faces, reminds her of the spirit of Christmas.

And through volunteers like Leighton, sponsors like the Salvation Army, Guardian Bank, The Valdosta Daily Times, and numerous donors, the Empty Stocking Fund again does its best to ensure that no Valdosta-Lowndes County child will find an empty stocking come Christmas morning.