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Volunteer’s work brightens children’s holiday

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  • List of donors
  • Empty Stocking Fund
  • How to help

    Send checks to Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte NC 28237-7269 or go to charlotteobserver.com/emptystockingfund and use PayPal. For questions about how to help families, call Salvation Army Donor Relations: 704-714-4725. Registration has been closed for families seeking help. Donations so far: $244,697.21.

    •  LIST OF

    DONORS, 2A


  • The Empty Stocking Fund

    Newspaper readers in Charlotte have contributed to the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $270,000 to buy gifts for low-income children at Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, an address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.



Debbie Gwinn doesn’t get to see the children’s faces light up when they spot their Christmas presents.

But the 60-year-old library assistant knows she’s played a big role in putting smiles on the faces of kids from low-income families during the holidays.

Gwinn is one of 2,500 volunteers who help with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau. She donates her time putting together bags of toys and stuffing stockings for children who might not otherwise have any presents under the Christmas tree.

Nearly 14,000 needy children will get toys and stockings this Christmas. Some also will get clothes.

“I just love the spirit of Christmas,” says Gwinn, whose two children are now grown. “I believe children should be delighted on Christmas Day.”

When Gwinn first learned about the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau 15 years ago, she knew she had to be a part of it. She’s been volunteering there ever since.

Gwinn calls it “a mission.”

“I get to help needy children and families in our community,” she says. “It’s exhilarating, gratifying and rewarding.”

And she adds: “It’s just downright fun.”

The Christmas Bureau, funded in part by the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund, buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for low-income families. Last year, the newspaper’s readers contributed nearly $270,000 to the fund. So far this year, the fund has raised more than $240,000.

Gwinn has worked one day a week at the Christmas Bureau since October. She’s helped register children who will get free toys. She’s sorted through the toys. She’s filled plastic bags with toys. And she’s checked and double-checked to make sure the bags of toys had been properly filled.

“It’s kind of like a giant puzzle,” Gwinn says. “There are lots of different pieces that need to all come together to make it possible for children to receive their presents.”

“It’s a lot of work,” she adds. “But it’s a lot of fun – the teamwork and good-hearted people that I’m working with. And it’s fun knowing that you’re going to provide joy to these children whose families are unable to provide for them.”

Sarah Rebert, the Christmas Bureau’s volunteer coordinator, praised Gwinn’s willingness to take on whatever task she’s assigned.

“She’ll do whatever we ask,” Rebert said. “She helps with our greatest needs. She’s willing to do all the work to make Christmas a joy for these children.”

For Gwinn, it’s vital for children and families to experience joy during the holidays.

“I’m absolutely passionate about the Christmas Bureau and what it offers families and children in our community,” she says. “The whole experience is heartwarming because we see the outpouring of generosity by the community. It’s the spirit of the holiday season – the gift of giving and lending a helping hand.”

Wright: 704-358-5052
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