One of the biggest Christmas toy giveaways on the East Coast launches at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, with 5,000 families set to pick up toys enough for 10,400 children. It will take four days.
The Salvation Army affair is made possible by thousands of anonymous donors who adopt children’s names off Angel Trees and buy the items on their Christmas list. Most donors pick one, maybe two children.
Then there are the people like Krysten Hoversen, one of those young professionals who fill the gleaming office towers in uptown.
She adopted six children in the Christmas program this year, then went a step further by agreeing to buy gifts for a senior citizen in the Salvation Army’s lesser known Silver Bells Christmas program for low-income elderly people.
Hoversen, 28, couldn’t help herself, after serving as one of the volunteers who registered children in the program. That meant hours of listening to stories of families in turmoil over lost jobs, lost housing or declining health.
“Call it a love of the Christmas spirit,” says Hoversen, a New York native who works as a researcher for NASCAR. “I think that’s the one thing everyone involved in this program has in common. Whether you are giving $1 or one hour of your time, it’s about going above and beyond to make someone else happy. Wouldn’t it be nice if that spirit was around all year?”
Last year, one third of the children in the program weren’t adopted by donors. In such cases, Observer readers helped by donating to the Empty Stocking Fund, a safety net for buying toys at the last minute. Last year, the fund supplied toys for 3,300 children. One hundred percent of the money donated goes to the toy program.
Hoversen plans to take two days off from work to volunteer at this year’s toy distribution, which runs Dec. 15, 16, 19 and 20 at a former Walmart building on East Arrowood Drive.
Parents line up by appointment and become part of an assembly line that includes a bag of toys for each of their children, stockings stuffed with small surprises and a chance to win a bike (if donors haven’t already provided one).
Hoversen has an admittedly old-fashioned style for her community involvement. She’s a Girl Scout volunteer, a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians at St. Mark Catholic Church, and she recently joined the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.
The auxiliary is one of the community’s oldest service organizations, dating back to the 1940s, and its membership includes women in their early 90s. That makes her the baby of the group.
Dee Farrell is head of the auxiliary, and she says recruiting younger women like Hoversen is a goal in the coming year. The group’s chief mission is raising money for the Salvation Army efforts that help the homeless, low-income children and low-income elderly people.
Farrell guesses the average age of the 85 women in the group is mid-50s, including some who’ve been members for 30 years. The auxiliary is a key component in the Christmas program, which is how Hoversen got involved.
“I adopted a child off an Angel Tree last year, and I noticed a ton of names were still left,” said Hoversen. “I decided I wanted to do more, so I set a goal to adopt at least five children in 2016. … I read through the entire Salvation Army website to learn more about what they do and came across the Women’s Auxiliary page. I reached out to them.”
Hoversen launched her own online fundraiser to afford gifts enough for five children. When it did better than expected ($500), she adopted a sixth child.
Next Christmas is already on her mind, including a bigger fundraiser that reaches a broader audience.
It would be great, she says, to adopt 10 children, plus another senior. All 10 will be girls, ages 9 to 12, who ask for books and educational type toys, she has decided.
“Ultimately, I would love to have my own charity that instills in children … the idea that everyone and anyone has the ability to help others.
“It’s not all about money or experience, but about kind words and time, which everyone has.”
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. In recent years, Observer readers have contributed an average of nearly $370,000 annually to buy needy children gifts for 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, 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.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. Questions about your donation: 704-358-5520. For helping families: 704-714-4725.