Valdosta Daily Times

November 22, 2012

Filling the Stocking

Empty Stocking campaign helps Valdosta children

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Approximately 1,200 children will have a brighter Christmas morning this year thanks to the annual Empty Stocking Fund and the continued generosity of The Valdosta Daily Times’ readers.

While each registered child will receive Christmas presents, Salvation Army Capt. Monica Nickum said the challenge this year is that some children will not get what they asked for. There is always a need for bicycles and video-game players. There is a need to sponsor gifts for children under 6 months, too.

In hopes of filling these Christmas dreams, the Salvation Army is looking for adopting sponsors in addition to the donors whose names are regularly listed in The Times throughout late November and December.

Last year, the Empty Stocking Fund raised $27,878.68 — a nearly $10,000 increase from the 2010 Empty Stocking Fund.

Margie Blanton of Guardian Bank has kept the Empty Stocking account for the past several years.

“So many little children in our community get a Christmas that they normally wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the Empty Stocking Fund,” Blanton said. “And the children are what it’s all about. It’s simply amazing to see the outpouring of support from the people in our area and so many contributions also come from out of town and even other states.”

For decades, the Empty Stocking Fund has been ensuring that no Valdosta or Lowndes County youngsters awake Christmas morning to an empty stocking.

The Valdosta Daily Times started the Empty Stocking Fund in the mid 20th century. The Times partners with the Salvation Army and Guardian Bank in presenting the Empty Stocking Fund campaign each year.

“We live in a community that pulls together for the benefit of children,” said Jeff Masters, The Times publisher. “The generosity that shines through especially during the holidays is incredible and, I for one, appreciate our dedicated contributors in the Valdosta-Lowndes community.”

As for the Salvation Army, Capt. Nickum began work weeks ago for the annual Christmas charity.

She held registration for the Empty Stocking Fund families in early October. Registration has been closed for weeks.

From her list of registered children, Nickum checks with the Department of Family and Children Services and other Christmas toy organizations to ensure that no family is double-dipping. Empty Stocking families are receiving gifts only from the Empty Stocking Fund, Nickum says.

Also, under Nickum’s supervision, families are only allowed to register children for the Empty Stocking Fund for three consecutive years.

In late December, when it’s time for families to pick up their toys, Nickum does not want children attending. Partly so the child can enjoy the surprise of the gifts on Christmas morning and also to hopefully deter the children from growing up thinking they are not responsible for providing their children with Christmas presents. So they will not come to adulthood expecting someone to provide them with Christmas presents in the future.

Each registered child provides the Salvation Army with a Christmas wish list of toys. Nickum would prefer shopping for the toys personally but this has proven a logistical inconvenience for Walmart, where the majority of the toys are purchased. In October, Nickum provided Walmart with the children’s lists. The store then spends several days stocking the toys for Nickum and her volunteers to pick up.

Nickum arranges these items by child and by family. As distribution days near, these packages will be arranged in separate grids taped out on a warehouse floor. On the Saturday prior to distributions days, the Outback Riders will hold the group’s annual Toy Ride, bringing hundreds of more toys. Nickum and volunteers will spend the afternoon distributing these toys to the packages throughout the gridded floor.

For distribution, Nickum will schedule appointments for each family to send an adult representative to pick up the toys. She will schedule 60 families per hour. This avoids a mad rush of 1,200 families all arriving at once to claim their toys. This way, people keep their appointments and the toys disappear grid box by grid box, row by row, in an orderly fashion.

Distribution days are scheduled for Dec. 18, 19.