Two Christmas drives that rely on community

Posted 12/6/17

As WCLE radio’s 42nd annual Empty Stocking Fund races to what promises to be another successful close at week’s end, we are reminded the campaign makes a huge difference in Cleveland and Bradley …

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Two Christmas drives that rely on community


As WCLE radio’s 42nd annual Empty Stocking Fund races to what promises to be another successful close at week’s end, we are reminded the campaign makes a huge difference in Cleveland and Bradley County because of two key reasons: Community support and hard work.

Another popular drive with the same legacy and hometown heritage is the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, an initiative whose roots grow as deeply as its Empty Stocking Fund counterpart.

Although the Yuletide programs bear key differences — in goal, profile and volunteer exposure — each tugs at the heart of any local resident who believes in bringing Christmas to a child whose families lack equal opportunities, and who also understand the innate good in providing the food staples for a hot meal.

Last week in its opening five days, the Empty Stocking Fund excelled in its outreach, and the community responded in a kind and giving way ($36,000) that speaks to the generosity of The City With Spirit and The County With Pride.

With a goal of exceeding last year’s total — which landed somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000 — the Empty Stocking Fund wants to bring a special Christmas morning to more than 1,000 local children.

The William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, with a goal of $24,000, is working to provide a box of food staples to several hundred families in need; each basket will supply enough food for a Christmastime meal, and hopefully a few beyond the holiday.

In this season of giving — which begs the question, “Why can’t every day be just like Christmas?” — it is important to remember the history of both drives. Each is rooted in a man’s love for others, especially for those who are not born with like chances in life.

The Rodgers basket fund is named after a former editor of the Cleveland Daily Banner who — in the 1940s — worked with an organization called Associated Charities to help feed families in need. An editor who was stricken with polio, Rodgers died from the horrific disease, but his work to help others was memorialized by a renaming of the Christmas drive in his honor.

A few years after the editor’s death, another man of big heart and genuine spirit — the Rev. M.E. Littlefield — launched a Christmas drive of his own. In time, it became known as the Christmas Party for Children. In the decades since, it has brought Christmas to tens of thousands of children.

Three years ago, the Christmas Party for Children — whose legacy has been carried on by Littlefield’s grandson, WCLE owner Steve Hartline — evolved by merging with others.

Now, operating under the Empty Stocking Fund name, the best practices of the Christmas Party for Children, the Creating Christmas Memories initiative founded by Cleveland businesswoman Brenda Lawson and her family, and the originally named Empty Stocking Fund (co-founded by Tom and Sandra Rowland, and the late George R. “Bobby” Taylor) continue to make a huge difference for local families in need.

As mentioned earlier, these drives don’t succeed on blind faith. Volunteers for both — local residents who believe in what they’re doing — reach out to others in hopes of reaching in to their hearts.

Volunteers do the work for the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, which operates with a 501(c)(3) status, meaning the organization is steered by an unpaid board. Mostly, they represent area churches, and this year United Way of the Ocoee Region has stepped in to assist with volunteer support.

Empty Stocking Fund volunteers work just as hard, and WCLE radio employees can be found at the program’s core. For a 10-day period, one that started last week and will conclude Friday at the Life Care Centers of America grand finale, the station’s on-air personalities conduct live remotes in the early mornings and late afternoons at sites throughout the community.

Kudos to Hartline and his staff for keeping the Empty Stocking Fund in the hearts and minds of our community, as well as for their accompanying on-air support of the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund.

Accolades also go to the Empty Stocking Fund’s familiar faces and voices, Samaritans like the Rowlands and Lawson and their unsung army of civic-minded volunteers; and also to a growing base of partners that now includes Danny Murray and Lee University’s beloved “Voices of Lee” who have already done so much for this year’s campaign — including tonight’s Christmas concert at Pangle Hall.

For those wishing to donate to either, or to both Christmastime drives, it’s not too late. For the Empty Stocking Fund, simply listen in to the live broadcasts or drop by the host businesses whether it’s morning or afternoon.

For the basket fund, make your checks payable to the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund and mail them to either of three addresses: First Tennessee Bank (P.O. Box 3566, Cleveland TN 37320-3566, or 3870 Keith St. N.W., Cleveland TN 37312); or, Cooke’s Food Store (3400 Keith St. N.W., Cleveland TN 37312); or, United Way of the Ocoee Region (85 Ocoee St. S.E., Cleveland TN 37311).

Christmas initiatives like the Empty Stocking Fund and the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund lie at the heart of what makes Cleveland and Bradley County a hometown community.

We support them both.

We encourage our readers to do the same.


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