12/13/09 — Sharing Christmas: Empty Stocking Fund Party 2009

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Sharing Christmas: Empty Stocking Fund Party 2009

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 13, 2009 1:50 AM

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Volunteer Xiu Liu, left, helps 6-year-old Ta'Nija Miller pick out a gift at the Empty Stocking Fund toy giveaway Saturday at Dillard Middle School.

His eyes fixated on a mass of remote-controlled cars, action figures, roller skates and other toys, Jacob threw his hands into the air.

"This is so cool," the 6-year-old said. "You mean, I can pick anything I want?"

"Just one," said the volunteer guiding him through Santa's workshop. "Whichever one you like the most."

"Wow," the little boy replied. "I just can't believe it."

"Believe it," his guide said. "It's Christmas."

Jacob walked away from the pile clinching a foot-long Corvette -- one he couldn't wait to take home and "drive real fast."

But he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw -- sitting by the exit -- the man he believed made his holiday dream come true.

"Santa. Santa," he shouted, running in for a hug. "I've been real good this year, haven't I?"

"You sure have," Santa replied, handing him a stocking filled with fruit, cookies and candy. "Looks like you made the list."

What Jacob didn't know was that Santa's workshop was just a simple stage -- that his elves were volunteers from the same community that raised enough money to ensure he and more than 600 other children had a Christmas this year.

And that in the nearly 100 years the Empty Stocking Fund has been a Wayne County holiday tradition, thousands in need have benefited from the event.

The fund's annual Christmas party was held at Dillard Middle School Saturday morning.

But for those who walked away with presents, winter clothing and a stocking full of treats, it was so much more than a few hours of caroling followed by a few moments of excitement.

For a 5-year-old named Trey, it was the first time in more than a year he got to pick out his own toy, his mother said.

"Look at his face," she said, watching her son survey a stack of Transformers. "This is such a wonderful day. We are blessed."

And for 7-year-old Christopher and his 6-year-old brother, it was a break from the sadness that came with losing their father a few months ago.

"This means so much to us. It's been a really tough time for them," their mother said, tears running down her face. "So please, thank everyone who did this. You have no idea how much this means to our family."

The spirit of the event was not lost on those who showed up before 9 a.m. to volunteer as "elves," either.

Like John Kearney, a 16-year-old who came with other members of the Spring Creek High School Future Farmers of America.

"I'm loving this -- definitely a good feeling," he said. "I'm really glad to be able to help people out."

Goldsboro Woman's Club president Jo Brewster felt the same way.

But she and other members of the organization were not simply involved at the Saturday main event.

Last month, they went shopping for the toys that graced the Dillard stage.

The local chapter of the Continental Society was on hand, too -- passing out clothing to the parents of each child who qualified for a ticket to the party.

President Anetta Reid said her organization is always proud to join the Empty Stocking Fund effort.

"We know if they were not allowed to come to the Empty Stocking Fund, these children might not otherwise have a Christmas," she said. "So, as usual, we're just excited."

But they weren't as excited as Selena -- a 5-year-old who couldn't wait to see the selection of Disney Princess goods at the end of the row of toys.

"My mommy says I'm a princess. Just like Snow White," she said, reaching for a bag complete with hair brush, lipstick, pretend curling iron and more -- all Disney Princess-themed. "Now I'm really going to be one, huh?"