Lesa Hicks, right, and niece Haley Runion get ready for the first wave of families to enter Stuart Elementary School gym for the annual community Christmas gifts program in this file photo. The program was started 65 years ago by the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield to help out families that need an extra boost this time of year. It has been funded by the Mix 104.1 fm and WCLE radio Empty Stocking fund for over 40 years. This year donors pledged over $33,000 for Christmas gifts for over 650 children.Photo by Randall Higgins /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Children must be registered for the Empty Stocking Fund, coordinated through Faith Memorial Church and Pastor David Riggs. Registration is available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is open today through Thursday at Faith Memorial Church.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — After Thanksgiving dinner and Friday shopping comes the giving.
With the new week, a new season begins with many opportunities to share Christmas with those who have less.
“There is a lot of need out there,” said Steve Hartline, whose radio station, WCLE-FM 104.1, launches its first Empty Stocking Fund appeal this morning between 6 and 9 a.m.
The charity drive was begun in the early 1970s by then-station owner Tom Rowland, now Cleveland’s mayor, with the late Bobby Taylor, a local banker and civic leader.
Because so many other programs here serve foster children and others, the Empty Stocking Fund focuses on children not covered anywhere else by Christmas projects.
Each year, the Christmas party serves about 1,000 children with toys and treats. There may be more this year because of economic conditions compounded by the April tornadoes, officials said.
“I expect we could be north of 1,000,” Hartline said.
The fundraising ends with a community Christmas party on Dec. 17 at George R. Stuart Elementary School.
Other giving opportunities abound in the area.
The Christmas Memories Foundation, founded eight years ago by business leader Brenda Lawson, works with city and county schools to bring children for a special day of shopping at Kmart.
The children get $100 each. Principals and teachers select children who may need help. Paperwork is sent home for parents’ approval before the shopping day. Hundreds of volunteers sign up to help out.
Siblings take home bags of toys and clothing for toddlers and infants at home.
Fraternal Order of Police local lodges have their own shopping days with selected children. The Coats for the Cold drive, begun 11 years ago by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, is nearing 10,000 coats given away.
Watson said he started the Coats for the Cold as a police officer when he saw coatless kids playing outside.
“When kids are loved, they do better. When their basic needs are met, they excel at life,” Watson said.
Donations of new or used coats can be dropped off at any BB&T bank location; Village Tire Center at 232 Third St. SW; County Trustee Mike Smith’s office in the Bradley County Courthouse; Family Tire Center at 215 Inman St.; and Logan-Thompson law office, 30 Second St. NW.
Many churches, civic groups and fraternal organizations have their own programs, too, said Rowland.
“Just as people rallied to help each other after the storms, they do the same for children at Christmas,” Rowland said.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...