VALDOSTA -- On Dec. 25, children will rise before dawn to peek underneath a Christmas tree and see brightly colored boxes begging to be opened.

Later, families will squeeze around the table with chairs pushed close together and say a blessing for the ham, turkey and sweets spread before them.

But some families in Lowndes County will have no tree, no gifts and no dinner.

Cadets with the Lowndes High School Air Force Junior ROTC are determined to make sure everyone has a merry holiday season.

The proverbial stockings "hung by the chimney with care" will be full this year thanks to contributions from the Empty Stocking Fund. The Salvation Army uses donations to purchase toys for children who may have none come Christmas day.

Retired Lt. Col. Dean F. Failor, senior JROTC instructor, said Lowndes High students and parents can make a difference this holiday season by donating to the JROTC collections that are given to the Salvation Army.

Half of collections go directly to the Salvation Army to buy food for persons in need and half goes to the Empty Stocking Fund to purchase toys.

Wednesday was Day 3 of a two-week collection period for the cadets. So far, they've raised around $500. The goal is 10 times that amount.

Red plastic cups are placed in each teacher's morning classroom, and students are encouraged to donate what they can -- nickels, quarters, dollar bills -- to push that dollar amount over the goal.

The top three classrooms receive a poinsettia and plaque, and the first place classroom wins a breakfast provided by the ROTC.

Failor said this is one way cadets, who learn to become better citizens through the JROTC program, contribute to the community.

"This teaches them if they work with cooperation, a lot can be accomplished," Failor said.

Cadets plunked pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into green cups where the money was counted, rolled and written in a log book. Dollar bills were counted and registered in the same manner.

Failor hopes parents of Lowndes County students will give extra lunch money so teens can put a bill or two into the cups.

Cadets made posters advertising the event, which has been a long tradition for JROTC and Lowndes students.

Since 1992, Lowndes High has contributed over $50,309 to the Empty Stocking Fund.

"This helps people in the community, right here in Lowndes County, not somewhere else," said Katie Falkenhausen, cadet and Lowndes High senior.

Fellow cadet and senior Christopher Brents said the money means a lot for kids who otherwise wouldn't have toys for Christmas.

Failor said parents are invited to write checks or give cash, and the JROTC can provide students with receipts.

"Crunch time," as it's known, is the last day's totals to which teachers contribute, often matching or topping student donations.

Cadets ask for continued community support to help people in need.

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