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Empty Stocking Fund reaches record pledge total

From the Cleveland Daily Banner: Organizers of this year’s Empty Stocking Fund had hoped to reach their goal of $1 more than the previous year.

From the Cleveland Daily Banner: Organizers of this year’s Empty Stocking Fund had hoped to reach their goal of $1 more than the previous year.


When the campaign held its grand finale Friday at Life Care Centers of America, $232,886 in pledges was reported, which exceeded the previous year’s total of $215,760 by well over that $1.


In announcing the final number Friday, no one was happier than WCLE Mix 104.1’s Steve Hartline, who has been involved with the Empty Stocking Fund since he was a teenager.


“It means more to me — this particular program — because it caps 10 days of people showing their love for local children,” Hartline said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people who give and they show how much they love boys and girls right here in Cleveland and Bradley County.”


This year’s campaign was the 53rd annual event, with Friday culminating the “10 Days of Giving” the radio station had promoted. The campaign had kicked off on Monday, Dec. 4, at the Church of God International Offices.


For the past five decades, the Empty Stocking Fund has raised funds to purchase toys and other items for children in the local area. In the past, those gifts had been distributed to the children on a special day leading up to Christmas.


This year, approximately 1,500 children will now have their gifts from the Empty Stocking Fund at their homes on Christmas Day or the day that presents are normally given out at their homes.


“They will now have them on Christmas, on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve, or whichever day the family celebrates,” said Brenda Lawson, who has been a major part of the campaign for several years after it combined with her previous Christmas program that also helped children.


“Our goal was to make sure that all of these kids got Christmas [gifts],” she said. “In the years past, we would take the kids shopping [through the gifts], and sometimes they would wear their clothes [they received] to school the next week, but they might not have anything under the tree for Christmas.”


Now, the parents will be the ones picking up the Christmas gifts on Dec. 16 at Ocoee Middle School, and decide when they want to pass them along to their children.


Hartline said during the time when the COVID virus was prevalent in Cleveland and across the nation, the Empty Stocking Fund still was able to distribute gifts, but it also helped them plan for the future, which has led to having the parents pick up the gifts.


“What it taught us was we can give it to the parents or the grandparents and then they can decide … do they want to do it Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? It’s totally up to them,” he said. “And I love that. I think it’s great because honestly that’s what any parent or grandparent would like to do, is have that choice.”


Lawson thanked everyone who gave to the fund this year, and also praised all of the volunteers who helped, as well as those who will be helping on the distribution day.


“We have tremendous people who work outside in the cold and the pouring rain … whatever it takes,” she said. “We have great volunteers who help us get that done.”


Hartline also thanked the volunteers, those who helped during the 10 days while his station promoted the event, and took pledges, those who came to the kickoff and finale, and those who made pledges.


“There are so many new people in Cleveland and Bradley County as the [Cleveland Daily] Banner has reported, and we saw so many new people giving,” Hartline said. “The Banner has been a big part about spreading the word on this Empty Stocking Fund and I really appreciate everyone at the Cleveland Daily Banner.”


Former editor at the Banner, Beecher Hunter, was one of those at the grand finale who watched as the final total was announced. Also at that final day was local attorney Jim Logan, who has been involved for years; Hartline’s mom, Lois Ann Taylor; and Cleveland Mayor Emeritus Tom Rowland.


“I remember as a child, hearing Tom on the radio, raising money for the Empty Stocking Fund,” Hartline said.


Both Hunter and Rowland recognized Hartline’s grandfather, the Rev. M.E. Littlefield, as the originator of the Empty Stocking Fund, and praised Hartline for continuing the tradition.


“Seeing this support just reaffirms your feeling in the human spirit and your belief in the goodness of people,” Hartline said.