Monday, November 24, 2008

Empty Stocking Fund Opens Doors Dec. 1

/PRNewswire/ -- The Empty Stocking Fund, one of metro Atlanta's oldest charitable organizations, anticipates an increase in demand for Christmas gifts when the nonprofit group begins distributing gifts to low income families on Dec. 1.

Don Crawford, executive director of The Empty Stocking Fund, said supplies of gifts should be adequate to handle the need. But the Fund has not yet completed its annual fundraising drive to cover the costs of the more than 200,000 items to be distributed and is counting on additional financial support from the community.

"The impact of the economy is not yet clear," Crawford said. "We want to be certain that we will be able to fill this critical need for those who are the most affected."

Santa's Village, where most of the gifts are distributed, opens at 9:00 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1 in the basement of City Hall East 675 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta and will operate between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday-Friday and 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, through Dec. 20.

The Empty Stocking Fund, founded in 1927, empowers parents and guardians of children living at or below the federal poverty level by providing them with an opportunity to give their children gifts at Christmas time. Each year, The Empty Stocking Fund distributes gift packages for more than 50,000 children living in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, Fayette, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.

Eligibility for parents or guardians of children up to 13 years old is determined by eligibility for and receipt of Medicaid benefits through the Department of Family and Children Services. Parents and guardians of children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties visit Santa's Village to select gifts for their children at no cost. All others go through their county's DFACS.

Last year, Empty Stocking Fund served 49,940 children and anticipates at least 52,000-53,000 this year. But Crawford reiterated that the impact of the weak economy is a big unknown and contributions so far have trended downward.

"We have already received data from DFACS indicating the number of eligible families has increased rather dramatically since last year," Crawford said. "I'm very concerned that an increase in demand and a fall-off in donations will seriously stress our ability to serve the children that need our assistance. We prepared for an increase in service need, but I'm not sure anyone could anticipate the possibility of the needs reflected in the current economy."

Crawford said Empty Stocking Fund has had an "unbelievable response" from volunteers who will work at Santa Village and is fully staffed. "The real need right now is financial," he said, adding that it costs an average of $20 to provide a gift package for each child.

The Fund's annual Drive Day, conducted by the Jr. ROTC cadets from local high schools since the late 1920s, will take place Dec. 6-7 throughout Metro Atlanta with over 2,000 cadets from 28 high schools collecting contributions.

The Empty Stocking Fund cannot accept donations of actual toys, but relies on tax-deductible contributions from local businesses, foundations and citizens and Sponsor-a-Child campaigns in businesses, churches and other organizations throughout metro Atlanta. Gift items are purchased at a significant savings on the wholesale market.

Last year, burglars broke into Santa's Village and made off with a nearly $50,000 worth of gift items. An outpouring of support more than made up for the losses and surplus funds were invested in upgrading the educational component of this year's gift packages.

"Thanks to the support of The Home Depot and ADT Security Services, we have installed security upgrades at Santa's Village to ensure the security and safety of our clients, volunteers and gift inventory," Crawford said. "But the challenge of the economy remains."

"We didn't let the Grinch steal Christmas last year and we won't let this Grinch steal this year's Christmas," he said. "But we need the support of the community to ensure we can perform our mission once again. Christmas must go on."

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