The giant boxes were filled with the types of gifts that make little – and big – kids smile: stuffed horses and fuzzy hats, earbuds and action figures.
And for hours, Diane Minsker and dozens of other members of the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary stuffed those gifts into red mesh stockings that will be opened Christmas morning by more than 10,700 children who will receive gifts thanks to the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
The stockings are a signature part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas program each year.
As parents come to the Salvation Army Christmas program headquarters the week before Christmas to pick up their children’s gifts, they are also handed a stocking for each child and a box of food for their family’s holiday meal.
Of the 10,700 stockings that will be distributed this December, about 3,000 of the stockings and their contents were paid for by the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund. Children in the Salvation Army Christmas program, who range in age from infant to 12 years old, have their names put on Angel Trees at malls, and donors pluck them off and supply toys on the child’s wish list. In cases where children aren’t picked or gifts aren’t returned, the Empty Stocking Fund buys the toys. The fund also pays for gift cards for 942 low-income adults with disabilities.
Minsker has been volunteering with the Salvation Army since 1967, during her sophomore year of college. Ringing Christmas bells was a good way to meet boys, she recalled – “It wasn’t a very selfless reason, but it worked,” she laughs – and she’s been helping the charity in some way for almost every year since, spanning three states.
“The younger you are in volunteering, the more it becomes a part of your life and the more you reap those benefits. You feel like you’re a part of the greater good,” she said. “When you make a little difference in one person’s life, that difference can multiply as it goes on.”
During the rest of the year, the women’s auxiliary does fundraising and provides the staffing behind many of the Salvation Army’s initiatives, including funding a college scholarship program and supporting the “Pathway of Hope” program that helps mothers move from homelessness to employment and financial independence.
For nine days this October, Minsker worked signing families up for the Christmas program. Parents had to come with official documents proving the ages of their children and financial need, including birth certificates, tax documents, proof of residence and proof of need.
“There is nothing more genuine, more sincere, than the happiness on a child’s face,” she said. “And these are parents who need help at Christmas.
“As we’re stuffing stockings, we’re thinking, ‘Look, this 9-year-old boy is going to have a flashlight with batteries that really work. A 10-year-old girl will have earbuds,’ ” Minsker said. “All those things seem small to us. But what it does for that child is just as important as what it does for the parent who has something there for that child.”
Minsker said she can’t wait for distribution days, which begin Dec. 15, when parents return to pick up the gifts for their children.
“That’s the finale. That’s the fun day,” Minsker said, “when you get to see those parents just as excited as their kids will be on Christmas morning.”
Empty Stocking Fund
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 of the donations go 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. We’ll publish all donors’ names. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll publish that name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/article116262948.html. 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 through the Salvation Army: 704-714-4725.