Tears of joy and gratitude rolled down Hope Moss’ cheeks Friday morning at the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau as she collected gifts for her four children – a wish come true for Moss at a holiday season that’s found her and her husband in rough financial times.
Moss had to stop working months ago to care for her mother as she died, and her husband is out of work on disability. Her kids, ages 11, 6, 4 and 2, caught on to the struggles this year and said they didn’t want anything for Christmas, Moss said. Which made Friday morning even more bittersweet.
“I’m so happy my kids can wake up and smile and they can have Christmas,” Moss said, her voice breaking. “It’s the biggest gift you can get in the world, to know that your kid is happy and smiling. To see that joy of a child, that’s the best thing in the world.”
Moss’ children will be among more than 10,700 Charlotte-area children who will receive gifts from “angel tree” donors this year thanks to the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
Until Wednesday, parents of those children from more than 6,600 families in need who registered with the Salvation Army will come to collect their children’s toys, stockings and a box of food.
The Empty Stocking Fund raises money to purchase toys for children whose “angel” cards were not plucked from angel trees or whose gifts were not returned. (These typically number in the thousands.)
The fund also goes to purchase stockings stuffed with toys and needs like hats, mittens and toothpaste – every child receives a stocking – as well as gift cards and gifts for approximately 1,000 senior citizens in need. All families also receive a box of food supplied by Second Harvest Food Bank and paid for by the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
The Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, located in a former Wal-Mart on Arrowood Road in west Charlotte, is a sea of large white bags, rows of thousands of bicycles and dozens of giant pallets full of stuffed stockings.
On Friday morning, parents spun a wheel to win a free child’s bike courtesy of local non-profit Spokes Group, which donated 2,000 to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Program this year. Volunteers loaded parents’ shopping carts with the bag bearing their children’s names, then parents picked out a stocking for each child, received a box of food and loaded their goodies in the car to hide at home.
Salvation Army area commander Major Larry Broome marveled at the sight of dozens of volunteers helping the growing crowd of parents. Between October (when parents register) and Wednesday, nearly 1,700 volunteers will have logged more than 6,650 hours at the Christmas Bureau. That’s in addition to the Salvation Army staff who work on the project and volunteers who staff angel trees at area malls and businesses.
“It’s always one of those things where you wonder, are you going to be able to get it all done?” Broome said Friday morning. “Our team here has really been exceptional this year. We’re looking forward to a lot of excitement as the parents come through and get the toys for their kids and the food.”
It wasn’t palpable on Friday – for the parents, at least – but there’s a big worry among Salvation Army leaders about the future of next year’s Christmas Bureau.
The former Wal-Mart building the bureau has been operating out of for the past 10 years is under new ownership, and the new owners say they have other plans for the space.
Broome says his dream would be to buy the current facility, make much-needed renovations (its roof is falling apart and thieves vandalized the HVAC units, leaving the building with no heat or air conditioning), and use it for both the Christmas program as well as a Boys and Girls Club, a food pantry and a disaster relief station. But donors would need to step forward to make that happen, Broome says.
He’s on the lookout for other options as well, searching for large spaces accessible to bus lines, with ample parking and preferably in an area with a large under-served Latino population.
On Friday, volunteers wheeled bikes out to cars and parents grinned as Easy Bake ovens and toy kitchen sets were loaded into their carts, purchased by well-wishers in the community who had received their children’s lists from Santa.
Jeanette Perez couldn’t wait to get home and hide the toys her four kids ages 12, 7, 6 and 5-months had asked for, including Barbies, Panthers gear, earphones and infant learning toys.
Her children are helpful, kind and earn good grades, so Perez typed up a note from Santa earlier this month congratulating them and tucked it in the mailbox.
“They were so surprised, they said, ‘How does he know my name? He knows I know a lot of sight words!’ ” Perez laughed.
Now, with the help of strangers, Perez will be able to make good on Santa’s promises.
“If this hadn’t happened,” she said, “it would have been hard this Christmas.”
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.