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The final hour of the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Center ended with tears Tuesday, as Maj. Kay Lancaster, the woman in charge, let it sink in that her 45-year career as one of Santa’s most prolific helpers is coming to an end.

Ever want to give a kid his first bicycle? Or put a smile on a child's face on Christmas morning? The Observer's Empty Stock Fund is for you. It is the newspaper's yearly drive to support the Salvation Army's Christmas Bureau. To contribute, go to the Empty Stocking Fund donation page. Once you are on PayPal, use the box “Add special instructions to the seller” to convey who you would like to honor or remember.

Or you can send checks to:

The Empty Stocking Fund
P.O. Box 37269
Charlotte NC 28237-7269

To arrange a toy drive or volunteer at the Christmas Bureau, call 704-716-2643.

Want to help with a donation or to volunteer? The Charlotte Observer's annual Giving Guide includes the needs of more than 200 organizations from 10 counties.

The final hour of the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Center ended with tears Tuesday, as Maj. Kay Lancaster realized she was ending a 45-year career as one of Santa’s most prolific helpers.

As Georgia Mack walked up to the large wheel of fortune on opening day at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Center, she made a sign of the cross in the palms of both hands.

Dorothy and Darryl O’Leary own an attractive two-story home in a tidy north Charlotte neighborhood. But look more closely and you’ll see a husband and wife struggling to hold their dreams together.

Wesley Dixon is out of work, out of money and short on hope, so the last thing he wanted to see in his northeast Charlotte driveway Saturday was a squad car.

Takeshia Reed-Davis of Charlotte gushes when she talks about her children. She can’t help it. Their hugs and smiles keep her going day-to-day. But, medical challenges and a devastating fire have tried taking those smiles away.

Toys for 1-year-olds and children 9 to 12 are running low for the charity program, as it faces a second year of declines in donors adopting kids.

Frances Darcy is from Athlone, Ireland, so her decision to volunteer Wednesday at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Center was a revelation about the city she now calls home.

Alex Wilson of Charlotte has never forgotten that Christmas nearly 37 years ago when she awoke to find gifts from a Santa Claus she had concluded did not really exist.

Rebeca Camacho had no expectation that her house would ever again be filled with young children.

The Salvation Army Christmas Bureau runs on a lot of things: Energy, enthusiasm, volunteers … and sugar.

Stephen Ratcliffe and a dozen co-workers from Northwestern Mutual filled 15 carts with toys and rounded up 25 bikes. The bill was $7,500.

Lytonya Jackson is a wife and the mother of a 9-year-old son, so she had enough to worry about before that first blackout happened this year on New Year’s Day.

Visibly stunned by two women who personally thanked them for life-changing help, and spurred by a challenge grant, the all-female Good Friends came up with a record-blasting $272,866 at their annual luncheon Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The Good Fellows called their 98th annual luncheon to order at a minute past noon Wednesday. One hour later, donations from some 1,500 men to help Charlotte’s working poor were nestled all snug in their sacks, headed for the final tally.

Leave it to a bunch of Boy Scouts to turn holiday cheer into a competition. It happened Monday when Troop 118 showed up to organize the Salvation Army’s Christmas Center on East Arrowood Drive.

Over the past 30 years, Sylvia Austin of Charlotte says she has raised over 15 children, most of them not her own.

Of the nearly 12,000 children registered this year to get free Christmas toys from the Salvation Army, about a third are kids who were unwanted or abused by their parents.

Everything Dontavius Jones hoped for is going as planned, with one exception: Christmas.

Charrie Clark says she had two children who were stillborn and another survived only to be diagnosed with cancer of the eye at age 2.

Amira al Sadat does not plan to put up a Christmas tree this year for her two boys because money is tight. Plus, she doesn’t own any decorations.

Nikale Davis essentially has three full-time jobs. She’s a single mother of two, a college student and works as a teaching assistant with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

A year after Earline Riley and her family moved to Charlotte, Riley is certain she made the right decision, but finding stable work is tougher than she expected.

La’Swanna Pitts would like to publicly thank someone in Charlotte who helped her last year, though she doesn’t know the person’s identity.

There’s a 9-year-old in Charlotte who’ll be celebrating Christmas this year for the first time.

Updated daily to reflect latest donations to the Empty Stocking Fund.


Updated daily to reflect latest donations to the Empty Stocking Fund.