Their visit with Santa Claus: The 2012 Empty Stocking Fund party
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 9, 2012 1:50 AM
Precious Sutton, 4, sits on Santa's lap during the Empty Stocking Fund party held Saturday at Goldsboro High School. Hundreds of needy Wayne County children received a Christmas present, stocking, book and bag of fruit at the event, which ws funded, as it is every year, by the local community.
Leigh Ann Sizemore takes a moment to collect herself when tears start falling.
It has been years since she and her daughter, Taylor, waited in line to receive an offering from the Empty Stocking Fund, but the emotions that overcame her that morning haven't faded.
There was the joy she felt when her little girl's eyes lit up at the sight of hundreds of presents and Santa.
And there was even a bit of shame, she said, associated with the idea of needing help.
"As a parent, all you want to do is to be able to provide for your children, so when you can't, it's hard," Leigh Ann said, wiping tears from her eyes. "No, I'll never forget it. I was in that same line."
So now that the hard times are behind her -- Taylor is in college and Leigh Ann is working -- she returned to the Empty Stocking Fund Party Saturday morning.
She wanted to give something back to an event that contributed to her life being "so much brighter."
And when, one by one, those on the receiving end of the Goldbsoro News-Argus' annual giveaway walked by her, she, on several occasions, broke down again -- as if she could see, in their faces, the little girl it benefited so many years ago.
Christmas morning came early for hundreds of Wayne County children who, without the generosity of so many of their neighbors, might have gone without this holiday season.
There was caroling and dancing.
There were gifts and stockings packed with treats.
Santa Claus was there to listen to Christmas wishes.
"The joy that I bring to the children is a blessing," said Gary Patterson, the man who donned the red suit and white beard at this year's event. "It gives you a feeling that you're really making a difference."
Other volunteers agreed.
Like Pat Stokes, the president of the Goldsboro Chapter of Continental Societies, Inc., an organization that has been a part of the Empty Stocking Fund for more than 20 years.
"This time of year is a bright one for us," she said. "What better time to give than during this season."
Or Gene Jackson, a man who has volunteered at the event for 35 years.
"For me, it represents the Christmas spirit," he said. "How can you not do this?"
Among those who are there -- every year -- to help with the party are the members of the Goldsboro Woman's Club.
From buying the toys for the children and stuffing stockings to being there on party day to help direct the youngsters to Santa Claus, the club is always ready and willing to assist to make Christmas dreams come true.
"It is a tradition that we enjoy," the women said.
Members of the Spring Creek Future Farmers of America were on hand, too.
Grace West, 14, was one of them.
"I like seeing people who need help and being able to help them," she said.
Her friend, Charity Brown, smiled.
"We're their Santa," she said.
The group's president, 16-year-old Madisen Barwick, agreed.
"FFA, in our motto, it says, 'living and serving,'" she said. "I like making an impact in people's lives. Some of their situations are really sad."
By day's end, several hundred children were on their way home with the remote-controlled car, baby doll or Lego set they had picked out of Santa's pile.
And thanks to a donation from Communities in Schools, each also received a book to add to their holiday take.
One of the men who watched them leave Goldsboro High School with smiles on their faces was particularly humbled.
The Empty Stocking Fund has been around -- and facilitated by the newspaper he runs -- since before he was born.
So Hal Tanner III took the time to thank all those who have contributed, and those who will soon contribute, to the cause this year.
"There is something so special about being there for children at Christmas. It's what the season is all about," he said. "I'm just proud that, as a newspaper, the News-Argus has the unique ability to bring so many people together for such a great cause."
But his remarks were not limited to 2012.
This was, after all, the 100th year the paper has been at the helm of the Empty Stocking Fund.
"100 years. We should really put that into perspective," he said. "That translates into thousands and thousands of Christmas mornings for those who, without you, never would have had the joy our kids experience year after year. And, with a community like the one we've got, I know we'll be doing this for many more years to come. That, to me, is what's so special about the Empty Stocking Fund. The giving, no matter what the circumstance, never stops."