12/16/07 — A visit with St. Nick

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A visit with St. Nick

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 16, 2007 2:11 AM

Brandon just could not believe his eyes.

There it was -- the only thing he had asked for -- sitting on the top of a pile a thousand toys high.

"I see it. I see it," the 6-year-old said, pointing at a two-foot Transformer. "How did he know?"

Santa smiled.

"Well, I know everything," he said. "Have a Merry Christmas, OK?"

But Brandon could not respond without breaking the smile he had been wearing since he spotted that action figure.

So instead, he nodded his head in compliance and walked away -- holding the new "greatest present ever" close to his chest, looking over his shoulder all the while at Santa, star-struck.

Christmas came Saturday morning for more than 650 Wayne County children who might have otherwise gone without, as the Empty Stocking Fund's annual party saw hundreds of toys, pieces of candy and articles of clothing make their way to families in need.

Janelle got the guitar she wanted.

And Santa even got the 8-year-old's favorite color right.

"It's pink," she said. "Pink. Pink. Pink."

But her sister, Jasmine, was not impressed.

"That's cool," the 5-year-old said. "But I got a Dora doll."

What the girls did not know, was that something better than toys was waiting at the end of the line.

"Do you want to meet Santa Claus?" one volunteer asked them.

"You mean, he's the real one?" Janelle responded. "No way."

Then, all of a sudden, the crowd in front of the sisters cleared out.

"Santa. Santa," Jasmine screamed. "He's really here."

But he might not have been if it were not for the generosity of the local community, officials from the fund said.

It all began more than 100 years ago when a group of concerned residents decided to make sure every child had a Christmas in Goldsboro.

In the winter of 1912, the ladies of the Goldsboro Woman's Club became concerned about those children who would not otherwise have a Christmas. They approached Col, Joseph Robinson, editor of The Daily Argus with an idea: If the newspaper could raise the money, they would put on a party complete with gifts and goodies and a visit from Santa.

And the Empty Stocking Fund was born.

Today, donations continue to be collected by the News-Argus -- and every year, the community makes sure that goal is achieved. All the money collected is used for the children.

And again this year, donations paid for the toys, clothes and stockings.

And then there were the volunteers, "elves," as they preferred to be called -- The Goldsboro Woman's Club, Continental Societies and Wayne Community College's International Students' Club.

They gathered at 7 a.m.Saturday to set up the toys and the stockings.

Ethel Barnhill was among them.

The Goldsboro resident, now in her 80s, has been volunteering with the Empty Stocking Fund for more than 30 years.

"It just puts a smile on my face," she said. "It makes me feel like Christmas."

But she knows the day was not about her or the others who traded in a few extra hours of sleep for a chance to make holiday dreams come true.

"When you see those children smile it feels so good," she said. "It really does."

And by early afternoon, all those who turned out to provide Christmas for the underprivileged felt it, too.

But none more than Brandon, who said he won't ever forget the morning he got to meet Santa Claus -- or when he saw that action figure that made him smile as big as any 6-year-old.

"Merry Christmas," he said when he finally got outside. "This is so cool."

Despite the success of this year's party, Empty Stocking Fund officials say there is still work to do -- and money to raise -- as the cost of the event currently exceeds donations to date.

Fund Secretary Barbara Sturm encouraged local residents to continue giving and vowed to keep donations running on the front page of the News-Argus until Jan. 1.