By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
As folks would expect for a Christmas party, the room was filled with a sea of red.
One notable sight wearing red was right there in the middle of it all — a “dignitary” known as Mr. Kringle.
“Kris” Kringle, to be exact.
He arrived at Forest Lanes on the Cumberland Falls Highway, just in time for Friday’s party.
That “party” was the 26th Annual Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund’s traditional gift-giving and get together.
A collaboration between the Corbin Rotary Club and The Times-Tribune, the event for needy children and families in the Tri-County region is traditionally held the Friday before Christmas.
And, it was about to start.
Normally cool as a cucumber, Mr. Kringle was beginning to pace the carpet around the area between the snack bar and the bowling lanes. That’s because the doors would open at exactly 1 p.m., and people were already lined up outside.
But despite the choppy winds and low clouds, the jolly old man in the bright red suit was more than happy to be there.
He was anxious to start.
“Traffic over I-75 was a little busy coming into Corbin, but we had some smooth flying. My reindeer asked me, ‘If there was some leftover pepperoni pizza at the party, could we have some after the children and families had been fed?’ I grabbed my smartphone, called the bowling lanes and they told me, ‘Sure, we’ll save your reindeer some. And we’ll have ‘em plenty of water and some peppermint sticks if they’d like.’ When I told my reindeer that, they went from ‘high’ to ‘fly!’ and flat took off down this way. It’s always so good to see everyone here, and to help out with this worthy cause,” said Kringle — better known as Santa Claus.
Empty Stocking Fund officials said a total of 498 children and 209 families had been signed up to receive the gifts Friday.
As in years past, it took two shifts to get everyone in, with one group coming in at 1 p.m., the other group entering the doors at 2:30 p.m.
When the doors opened, it was a combination of fun and games, a land of toys, their very own pizza party and some one-stop shopping, all rolled into one.
One seven-year-old boy’s eyes lit up when a brand new, shiny and sleek bicycle was given to him by a volunteer.
Another child — a toddler — got their first taste from a slice of cheese pizza, finishing with a wide grin on her face.
Over where the shoes were located, an infant watched in amazement as volunteer and Rotary Club member Missy Burkhart’s nose lit up — thanks to a portable red light she was wearing on her nose, with the cord wrapped to the back of her head.
The infant liked the new shoes, too.
And several children got the heady experience of putting on a pair of bowling shoes, grabbing a ball light enough for them to roll down the alley, and watching if the pins would fly through the air for a strike or spare.
It was all good, said one of the volunteers, Rev. Rebecca Myers of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“It’s about the meaning of Christmas. If you don’t have Christmas gifts for the children, parents feel real bad about that. It can be a stressful time for families, especially those that don’t have a lot of resources. All this gives them hope, and it also gives them a real fun time. They bowl, they eat together and they have great moments,” she pointed out.
Said Rotary District Governor Jack McAllister, “We just don’t think about folks needing clothing, shoes or toys, but it’s there. The Corbin Rotary Club has identified that need, and has been doing it for 26 years. From what I’ve seen today, these folks who have come here are really appreciative of what they’re getting.”
McAllister was one of several dignitaries who took part in the party Friday. Another one was State Auditor Adam Edelen and his wife Melissa, who came down from Frankfort to take in the festivities.
Introduced by Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney, Adam Edelen spoke highly of the spirit of community in the city, and the volunteers’ zeal in putting service above self during the holiday season.
“It’s a real special occasion to see what a community like Corbin has done. This community service is a real blessing for families having a tough time with the economy, and Melissa and I are happy to help out,” he said earlier at the party.
As in previous years, Joe Caldwell thanked the crowd for coming, along with sponsors and and organizations who helped out with this year’s fund drive.
Caldwell — President of the Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund and Past District Governor of Rotary International — said some recent donations had come into the fund during the past few days, including a $1,000 donation from a Lexington woman who had heard about the campaign and wanted to contribute.
The goal for this year’s Empty Stocking Fund remains at $38,000.
In her invocation to officially start the party, Rev. Myers prayed for “an infusion of joy and celebration. Lord, let everyone know that they are precious in your sight, and beloved of God.”
Her friend and fellow Rotary Club member Vonda Moore called the day, “An afternoon of smiles.”
“For us at Corbin Rotary, it’s about making this Christmas season more meaningful. And, it’s about giving back. Giving back to others, back to the community, and giving your own time back to help out. You put a smile on somebody’s face, and your own face as well,” she said.
During a break before the next group was to come in, Lynn Tipton got a volunteer a slice of pizza and a soft drink.
When the first Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund started in 1988, she and her husband Les volunteered wrapping gifts the night before the party, and to help pass out gifts to those who signed up on the day of the party.
Friday afternoon — 26 years later — Lynn’s still there. And so was Les.
“This provides for people who are in real need. It makes sure everybody has something for Christmas,” she noted.
As the volunteer slowly sipped their soda, the sounds of happy children and bowling balls rumbling down the shiny and slippery wooden lanes, wafted in the background. The occasional crash when the ball hits the pins, making them explode and fly through the air, brought some loud yells of excitement from the kids, their friends, their parents and their grandparents.
Several children looked at their gifts with awe and amazement.
Their parents, grandparents and friends also looked at the gifts they received.
And, as a volunteer, Lynn Tipton felt the gift of giving to others.
On this one day — the Friday before Christmas.
For the past 26 years.
“I see the joy in the children receiving their gifts. I see the excitement, and I really see the love. I love the hugs they give me when I give them their gifts, and I give them hugs in return. It’s precious,” she said.
Empty Stocking helps hundreds
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