VALDOSTA — The annual Empty Stocking Fund will provide toys for hundreds of South Georgia children this Christmas thanks to the continued generosity of The Valdosta Daily Times readers.

Salvation Army Capt. Tasha Thomas said the organization has already registered about 875 children this year with a goal of registering at least 1,000 children. The number of registered children includes about 65 from the migrant workers clinic and youngsters from about 13 families at the Pines Family Center.

Registration continues 9 a.m.-noon Monday through Friday through Dec. 1, at the Salvation Army headquarters, 320 Smithland Place, or by going online at SAAngeltree.org, Thomas said. Call for an appointment: (229) 232-4724. 

Parents are asked to share what their children would like to have for Christmas during registration. The Salvation Army shops for the items and then offers them to registered parents traditionally in a toy store atmosphere, Thomas said. Thomas began shopping several weeks ago.

Registered parents will receive an appointment time to pick up their Empty Stocking gifts near the date of Christmas, she said.

Last year during the Christmas season, the Empty Stocking Fund raised a record-breaking amount of nearly $50,000.

Specifically, $49,421, said Margie Blanton of Guardian Bank. She has managed the Empty Stocking account for more than a decade.

As always, I absolutely love seeing what this does for the children in our community," Blanton said. "It’s the one place that donors can feel comfortable donating because every penny goes to the children. Not one dime is for any sort of cost whatsoever. Very few organizations can claim that. 

"And for me, there’s always that envelope that arrives, handwritten by a shaky hand, that has $5 inside – some years only $2 – but those envelopes always touch my heart and bring tears to my eyes. I try to envision some person that has very little but is still willing to give and I wish I could meet them and hug them and say 'thank you.'  There is also a child that sends their allowance for one week. Again, just wish I could hug them and tell them how important their generosity is."

For decades, the Empty Stocking Fund has been ensuring 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.

The Times will include a donation envelope printed by U.S. Press for the Empty Stocking Fund in an early December edition. The envelope has led to increased donations since being introduced several years ago.

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

Capts. Chris and Tasha Thomas opened registration for the Empty Stocking Fund families in October.

Blanton has already started working on the fund.

The Outback Riders has become a big part of the Empty Stocking Fund.

The annual toy ride is scheduled for Dec. 18. Hundreds of bikers, each carrying a toy, thunder from Lake Park to Valdosta to donate toys and money to the Salvation Army for the Empty Stocking Fund. This year, the start point will be at "Roger Budd's Exit 5 outlet mall," according to organizers.

Whiskey River, a group of local folks, annually brings in thousands of dollars.

And individuals, and Times readers continue donating as much as they can each year, each Christmas as they have for decades and generations.

To donate to the Empty Stocking Fund, send contributions to: Empty Stocking Fund, c/o Margie Blanton, Guardian Bank, P.O. Box 3400, Valdosta, Ga. 31604.

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