Well readers, you did it again.
You opened your hearts, reached into your pockets and put smiles on the faces of more than 6,000 children who otherwise would have gone without gifts this holiday season.
As of Friday, donations to The Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund totaled $286,116, which is $10,400 more than this time last year.
“That’s unreal!” exclaimed Shelley Henderson, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, which uses the money to help families in need. “It’s been a great year. I think there are a lot of new people giving. They are seeing the need and responding.”
In all, the fund received 2,172 donations. Amounts ranged from $3 to $10,000.
The children whose lives you brightened are from families with a demonstrated financial need. In all, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau helped more than 13,000 children. The Empty Stocking Fund assists with gifts for the thousands that are not “adopted” from Angel Trees across the community.
Empty Stocking also provided gifts to 1,453 elderly and disabled citizens in need who were referred to the Christmas Bureau by social service agencies.
It is all the more gratifying that donations to the fund are up this year in spite of our country’s lingering economic worries. Could it be that they climbed because of those concerns?
If the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that virtually everyone is one mishap away from financial straits. A layoff, an accident, a serious illness – all are twists of fate that can wreck a home’s finances.
“If you lose your job or have a medical emergency, suddenly you can’t make ends meet,” said Henderson. “These are folks who could be any one of us in most circumstances.”
Henderson recalls one man who ventured into the Salvation Army’s offices a week before Christmas. He was polite, neatly dressed. But he had suddenly fallen onto hard times.
“He had several kids,” Henderson said. “We were able to provide him some gifts to give them. He told me, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and then he just sobbed as he walked out the door.”
No one at the Observer worked harder than reporter Mark Price to introduce our readers to the people the fund helps. Since late November, Price has written more than a dozen stories he found in and around the Christmas Bureau’s distribution center at South Boulevard and Arrowood Road.
Those stories inspired a lot of donations to the fund. And some people didn’t stop there.
You may remember Renee Tucker, 42, who was laid off from her accounting job. Price interviewed her when she came to the bureau to pick up gifts for four children.
All of the kids, ranging in age from 5 to 12, had hoped for bicycles. Their own bikes had been stolen. But because there aren’t enough bikes to go around, recipients can only get one with the lucky spin of a roulette wheel.
As Price previously reported, Tucker broke down and cried when she didn’t win. But now hear the rest of the story.
Within two days after the article appeared, six readers stepped up to help. Eventually, three women teamed up to get her the four bikes she needed.
“In one case, a lady bought the bike and paid to have it delivered,” Price said. “It was never delivered, however, so the lady actually met Renee at a local Target and bought her yet another bike.”
Tucker later told Price that the children were “happy, happy, happy,” and that “Christmas was perfect.” She added that those who support the Empty Stocking Fund “are God’s little angels.”
Stories inspired others to fulfill dreams, as well. A 10-year-old girl’s wish for a fishing pole, answered with a shopping spree at Bass Pro Shops. An 11-year-old boy’s wish for a chipping wedge, answered with an entire set of new golf clubs. A wife’s wish for better health for her husband, who is a disabled Marine, answered with an invitation to a Marine support group’s Christmas party.
To all of these angels, we say thank you. You cared enough to reach out and help. That selfless act, in itself, is a very precious gift.