Joy in a child's eyes
By Steve Herring And Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 14, 2008 2:00 AM
One of the guests at the 2008 Empty Stocking Fund party shares a secret with Santa as he looks down at his new toy. Children at the party took home a stocking full of treats as well as a toy and some new clothes thanks to donations made by Wayne County residents.
Tayquan Hobbs, 4, waits in line to see Santa with his emergency rescue team play set.
"Are you going to be Santa Claus?" 6-year-old Jamaica asked one of the bearded volunteers Saturday at the 2008 Empty Stocking Fund party.
When she was reassured that the real Santa was inside waiting to see her, she decided to think about her wish list instead.
"I want a baby doll, a cheerleader baby doll," she said.
And she wasn't the only little one who was focused on his or her visit with the Jolly Old Elf.
Hundreds of children and their parents gathered Saturday morning at Dillard Middle School to take part in the annual party. Wayne County residents have raised more than $33,800 to buy toys, clothes and a stocking full of fruit and holiday treats for the more than 625 excited children who crowded the school's auditorium singing everything from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to "Jingle Bells."
By 8 a.m., the lines stretched from the doors of the school to the street, with some waiting almost an hour to take their place. They were bundled up against the brisk morning air -- some wrapped in blankets or snuggled up close to their parents or grandparents.
But even the allure of Santa and promise of presents could not keep all of the children waiting patiently in line. They decided playing in the yard was a better use of their time.
Kaeijah, 6, was hoping for a Bratz doll, but she had a question for Santa -- why he traveled at night.
VeAda Griffin of Dudley was there with her two sons, Robert and Immanuel -- both of whom were engrossed in the game on the lawn.
"It's a good way for them to stay warm," she said.
She said she was grateful for the help.
"It (Empty Stocking) is a good thing for the kids especially the way the economy is. This is a blessing. We can pay bills rather than buy gifts."
When the doors finally opened at 9 a.m. and the families settled into seats, they were treated to a magic show by The Almost Amazing Rex and his special assistant. Several of the children even volunteered to sing Christmas carols.
Then it was time to walk behind the stage curtain and into a veritable Santa's workshop of presents, where volunteers distributed clothes and Saint Nick himself gave every child a well-stuffed stocking.
Krystal Anderson waited with the boxes of her sons' new clothing while they picked out toys -- an UNO card game and Hot Wheels set -- and met Santa.
The party saved Christmas for her family, Ms. Anderson said.
"We've been out of our house for six months," she said. "I'm a mom of four. My oldest child has asthma. My 8-month-old has bronchitis."
She asked where she could send a thank-you note.
Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds came together behind the scenes to make the party a success.
The Continental Society distributed the clothing and matched the right size outfit to each child. Society president Anetta Reid said it gave her a wonderful feeling to know that they helped to bring Christmas cheer.
"Our mission is to enhance the welfare of children," Ms. Reid said. "You realize that this might be the only Christmas present that some of them would get."
Jo Brewster, president of the Goldsboro Woman's Club and Linda de Araujo, chairman of the Empty Stocking Fund for the club, organized the toy shopping.
They even made sure the batteries were included.
"We don't want the kids to take the toys home and not be able to use them," said Mrs. de Araujo, who has worked with the party for nearly a decade.
Easy Bake ovens and dolls were popular with the girls this year, while the boys wanted cars and games.
The Empty Stocking Fund is all about giving, and no one knows that better than Summer Beach, 9, who last year gave up a day of vacation at Disney World to help with the party.
She came back this year with her cousin, Emily Braswell, 6, to stuff stockings.
"I wanted to help the kids," Ms. Beach said.
Many young adults and their advisors from local schools attended to support the community.
Bill Fidler, his brother Tripp Fidler and friend Megan Cunningham, students at Parrott Academy in Kinston, carried packages for encumbered parents and awestruck children.
"I haven't really done anything like this before," said Bill, a senior at Parrott Academy. "It's great, getting to see their faces when they saw the toys."
Hannah Singleton volunteered her own time and brought along fellow members of the Spring Creek High School FFA to help out.
"There was one little girl who got a makeup kit. She was so happy, she said 'This was what I really wanted,'" Ms. Singleton said. "She was pointing out everything, how it lights up."
The FFA students arrived at 7 a.m. to load the gifts onto the truck, and supervised the stage stairs during the party to make sure even the smallest children made it down safely with their presents.
"They're so excited when they come down the stairs, it's my favorite part," Ms. Singleton said.
The Empty Stocking Fund party became a global affair four years ago, when members of the Wayne Community College International Student Club joined the volunteer effort.
Students from Hong Kong, the Phillipines, Thailand, Guam and other countries were on hand to translate for families who didn't speak English.
"I think the people who speak Spanish feel more comfortable knowing there's someone here who understands what they're saying," club adviser Fe Finch said.
Santa Claus has seen many children walk across the stage in the 16 years he has attended the party, but said that every one matters to him.
"They're all special," he said. "This is a great thing to be a part of."
Fund coordinator Debbie Pennell said she was grateful for the tremendous response from the community.
"I want to thank everyone for coming out and working together," said Ms. Pennell, executive assistant to the publisher at The News-Argus. "We can't name them all, but they know who they are, and they're doing it from the heart."
The party was a success, but the Empty Stocking Fund is still about $8,000 short and continues to accept donations to pay for the toys and clothes.
Ticketholders who were unable to attend the party can drop by the Salvation Army on Tuesday from 1 to 5 p.m. to pick up their children's gifts.
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