Making holiday dreams come true
By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 18, 2011 1:50 AM
Thanks to the good will of community members across Wayne County, hundreds of the area's needy children felt the spirit of the Christmas season at the Empty Stocking Fund gift giveaway Saturday.
The Whitley family from Rosewood stepped out of the auditorium of Dillard Middle, where the event was held, and into the cool morning air.
Parents Amanda and Richard, with kindergartner Nathan and first-grader Nataile, carried presents under their arms and smiles on their faces.
"I think this is really wonderful," Richard Whitley said. "It is a big help and a blessing for all the children here today."
He said that the Empty Stocking Fund is a relief for his family as the economy continues to stumble.
"The economy has turned around a little bit, but not as much as we would like to see," he said.
Nathan, a student at Rosewood Elementary, buzzed with excitement as he held his Cars 2 toy that was given to him just moments before.
"I got to meet Santa," Nathan said as he looked with youthful elation at the toy that was still in its package.
Like many of the children at the event, Nathan participated in the magic show that entertained the families who waited for their turn to select a gift.
"I liked the magic. It was a lot of fun," he said, bashfully.
Wayne County Public Schools helped identify nearly 600 households to participate in this year's Empty Stocking Fund Party.
The annual event was made possible by the nearly 400 donations from people in the community who gave a total of more than $32,000 to help parents and guardians provide gifts for their children. Donations are still being collected to pay the bills for the toys, stockings and clothes given to each child.
Mary Austin and her three children sat in the back of the auditorium waiting to get in the line to receive their gifts.
"This is helpful during the holiday," Ms. Austin said.
"My family is thankful. I think we should all come together more often. This is a good thing."
Her daughters Moesha, 10, and Terri, 8, giggled as they waited.
"I want to see Santa Claus," Terri said with a big smile. "And I want to get some candy."
The auditorium was nearly full of families who patiently waited for their turn to step onto the stage and a pick a toy from the massive selection that included skateboards, basketballs, footballs, dolls, race car tracks, board games, toy trucks, pink backpacks, mini drum sets and much more.
The families walked single file through the treasure of toys, and each child was allowed to pick any toy he or she desired.
Before walking out of the makeshift Toyland, the children were able to talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus. Many of the children took the chance to hug Santa and thank him for their new toys.
The parents or guardians were also given a box of children's clothes from JCPenney or Sears. Manning the clothing area were volunteers from the Continental Society, which partners with the News-Argus and the Goldsboro Woman's Club each year to organize the event.
The Woman's Club, in addition to volunteering the day of the event, spends several days shopping for the toys.
Along with the toys and new clothing came Christmas stockings stuffed with fresh fruits and sugary snacks.
Bobby Braswell was one in the large cast of volunteers who organized and worked during the event.
Braswell said he has been in charge of collecting the goods to fill the stockings, which numbered nearly 500 this year, for several decades.
"I started doing this over 40 years ago," Braswell said as he watched the long procession of giddy children and thankful parents.
Braswell said his father started volunteering with the Empty Stocking Fund around 1969, and that he followed in his charitable footsteps and even taught his son and three of his grandchildren to do the same.
"There are now four generations of us who have been involved in the Empty Stocking," he said as he pointed out his 9-year-old granddaughter who was helping the children pick out their gifts.
Braswell said he continues to donate his time to the Empty Stocking Fund because it makes his holiday season feel complete.
"It makes my Christmas to see these kids so happy," he said. "My whole family gets a great sense of joy out of helping others, and we enjoy giving back."
Braswell said there is something special in seeing the children, regardless of their situation, feel the joy of Christmas.
Volunteers participating in the party included the International Students Club at Wayne Community College, the Spring Creek High School FFA, Gene Jackson and family and the Braswell family, Gary and Phyllis Patterson and of course, Santa Claus.