From Charlotte to Hickory to Clover, S.C., Charlotte Observer readers touched by the stories of families struggling financially this Christmas opened their hearts and their wallets to help.
A dad from Hickory was so moved by the Observer’s story on Octavious Young, a single man who adopted his niece and nephew, that he sent Young $500 in gift cards and gave copies of the article to each of his three kids on Christmas to remind them of the power of helping others.
The story of Travis Thompson and his two sets of twin girls resonated with a reader who sent Thompson a $500 check to make the holiday brighter for his family.
And a woman in Charlotte began gathering clothes for Aida Hernandez and her two young sons when she read about the single mom’s struggles following two open-heart surgeries.
Those are just a few examples of the flood of responses from readers over the holiday season, as the newspaper detailed stories of families whose children were registered to receive gifts from the Salvation Army’s Christmas program.
This year, more than 10,700 children received Christmas gifts, stockings and boxes of food courtesy of the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund. Donors plucked children’s wish lists off angel trees in area malls and businesses. Those “angels” who went un-plucked, or whose gifts were unreturned, received gifts courtesy of the fund.
Since Thanksgiving, Charlotte Observer readers donated $348,689 to the fund. The Observer raises money for the fund year-round, as the Salvation Army prepares many months ahead for the following year’s Christmas season.
Some readers dropped off extra gift cards at the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau,. One local plumber offered to add a laundry room to Young’s home.
The story of Thompson and his two sets of twin girls, ages 9 and 5, hit home with several readers, including one from Clover who sent $100 in Wal-Mart gift cards to the family.
Another reader, who has twin grand nieces, was moved to donate $500 to Thompson.
“I immediately felt compassion for what he’s trying to do for those girls, and I just thought I needed to do something,” said the reader, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I know that he is a very strong person, so I know those girls will grow up in a great family and who knows what we’ll know of them down the road?” she said. “This was simply a way of making it a little easier for them this Christmas.”
There was one line in Young’s story that hit the 52-year-old dad from Hickory especially hard, he said, and inspired him to send $250 in Wal-Mart gift cards and a $250 Visa gift card to the family.
“He said he was raising those kids to be loyal and kind, and you don’t see that particularly much with what’s going on in the world today,” said the reader, who also asked to remain anonymous. “He had the deck stacked against him from the word go, and that hit home for me.”
The donor’s kids range in age from 17 to 24, and he was happy for the chance to remind them of the power of generosity.
“As a parent you hope that you raise them to have awareness and feelings for their fellow man. As part of my kids’ Christmas, I put a copy of the article in the envelope and gave it to them,” he said. “That was part of our Christmas: To help him.”
Young said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Hickory family and others who reached out to help. A local church also touched base with Young and is helping in his search for a new home.
“I feel so grateful and blessed that God took a moment to shine light on our story and give people the opportunity to see what our life looks like, and they thought so much as to pay it forward and extend a helping hand,” Young said.
He said Christmas was extra special this year, because the gift cards enabled him to do things like stock the pantry and buy a few more gifts for the kids and much-needed household items like new pillows for Xzabeon, 11 and Kenyada, 8.
Leaders of the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer say they’re grateful for the generosity of readers.
“Donating to the Empty Stocking Fund just helps make Charlotte a better place, because we are caring for our neighbors, caring for our people in need,” said Major Larry Broome, area commander for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.
“When you think of what people are going through – health concerns, job loss, finding a place to live here in our community where it’s very difficult to find housing – this part of our Christmas effort really makes a difference for those people,” Broome said, “and some of the stories that have been shared give a little bit of a snapshot of that.”
Donors, he added, “are making a difference in those people’s lives at this time of year and helping them start a new year fresh with some happiness and joy and peace.”
Observer publisher Ann Caulkins praised donors’ gifts, which allowed so many children to wake up Christmas morning to gifts from Santa.
“For many years our readers have contributed to the Empty Stocking Fund so that families will feel blessed during the holidays,” Caulkins said. “Thank you for giving hope and happiness to those who need it most during this Christmas season.”
Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920 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.