By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
A quarter of a century ago, a need was fulfilled by a group of volunteers.
It was a simple idea — give a Christmas present to needy children in the Corbin area who otherwise might not have a Christmas.
That simple gift was given to some 80 children in 1988. With that, the Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund was off and running.
Then as now, the fund is a joint effort between the Corbin Rotary Club and the Times-Tribune. And 25 years later, volunteers continue to fulfill that need.
Signups began last Thursday at Forest Hills Bowling Lanes for this year’s campaign.
“We’ve signed up a little over 300 children so far today. Usually we sign up over 400 children on the first day. We had our usual early morning rush which ended about 10 a.m, and it’s been pretty steady ever since. We’ve had several who’ve signed up for the first time. One family came in with a driver’s license from Lubbock, Texas, and had moved here, living with relatives,” said Rotary Club member and campaign president Joe Caldwell Thursday afternoon.
As other Rotary members and volunteers assisted two applicants at a nearby table, Caldwell pointed out the first couple of days are crucial to how many children are helped, and how much money needs to be raised this Christmas.
“Our ability to serve the children is based on the rate in which the donations come in. A lot of who and how we serve them depends on the early donations.”
Christina Bentley agreed wholeheartedly.
“How many children we serve, and what we can buy, is dependent on how much we raise now,” noted Bentley, Past President of the Corbin Rotary Club and Executive Director of Corbin’s United Effort, a community-based non-profit organization which helps struggling low-income families.
Last year, the Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund served just over 500 children. This year, between 500-600 children are expected to be served.
Caldwell said the campaign didn’t set a goal this year, for the most part. He added last year’s goal of $25,000 was almost met, and he welcomes anyone who’d like to be a corporate sponsor for this year’s fund to contact him.
While the sign-ups have started, eligibility for children to be included in the project begins in mid-November, with solicitations for donations announced in the Times-Tribune shortly afterwards. Once contributions begin coming in, donors and gift levels are recognized, which continues through December.
The Empty Stocking Fund provides shoes, a blanket, books, an age-appropriate wrapped gift and candy to needy children. Gifts and other items are then purchased by Rotary Club members and ultimately unloaded, recognized and wrapped for the party, held a few days before Christmas.
The gifts will be wrapped on the night of Thursday, Dec. 20, at a location to be determined later.
As in years past, volunteers are needed to help wrap the gifts. Caldwell added it’s helpful if those volunteering provide their own wrapping paper, tape and scissors, although some will be available to volunteers the night of the gift wrapping.
The giveaway is set for the next day, Friday, Dec. 21, at Forest Hills Bowling Lanes. The opening ceremonies will start at 10:45 a.m. The first party will start at 11 a.m., with the second party beginning at 1 p.m.
Former Times-Tribune Publisher Wink Devane came up with the idea for the Empty Stocking Fund in the Corbin area in 1988. For the first fundraiser for about 80 children that year, Rotary Club members and volunteers wrapped presents on the second floor of the Times-Tribune building. The event was held at the Corbin Civic Center by 1990, and in 1993, the party was held at the bowling lanes for the first year.
“It’s one of our largest programs, and the community looks forward to it. The club is always excited about participating in this annual event to help those less fortunate than us,” said the current Corbin Rotary Club President Tom Foster.
Caldwell stated, “Our Empty Stocking program has state and national recognition. We’ve been mentioned in Rotary circles and publications, and we’ve had governors here to help out. The last three Governors of the Commonwealth have been here for the party, and have made substantial contributions to the program.”
To donate, you can make tax-deductible checks payable to the Southeast Kentucky Empty Stocking Fund. They can be mailed to P. O. Box 511, Corbin, KY 40702.
If you need more information, contact Caldwell at 878-7935 or 524-6475, any Corbin Rotary Club member, or Bentley at Corbin’s United Effort at 528-7523.