Media gets the spirit: Rodgers, Empty Stocking funds reach out
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Nov 28, 2012 | 1191 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Basket Fund
=REGISTRATION IS UNDER WAY for the Community Christmas Party for Children, which is supported by The Empty Stocking Fund, Faith Memorial Church and WCLE Mix 104.1. Registration is taking place Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Faith Memorial Church on 17th Street. File photo, DONNA KAYLOR
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Two longtime Christmas drives supported by a pair of Cleveland news media outlets — one aimed at feeding almost 1,000 families and one whose outreach is working to bring warm coats and gifts to children in need — are well under way, and both traditionally rely on community support.

The William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund, which is operated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, launched this year’s campaign before Thanksgiving. Drive leaders hope to distribute boxes filled with food staples to some 980 qualifying families on Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Tri-State Exhibition Center.

The Basket Fund goal is $28,000 in order to purchase enough food to fill the containers. At last report, the campaign had received $5,557 in donations. The Basket Fund is named in honor of a former Cleveland Daily Banner editor who died in 1942, a victim of polio.

Another longstanding campaign, The Empty Stocking Fund which supports the annual Community Christmas Party for Children, is the most recent to launch its 2012 initiative. The drive kicked off Monday live from the Church of God International Headquarters in Cleveland. The annual fund is supported by WCLE Mix 104.1.

The Empty Stocking Fund drive will continue through Friday, Dec. 7. Its grand finale will feature a live remote by Mix 104.1 in the Professional Development Center at Life Care Centers of America from 6 to 10 a.m. The four-hour, live finale will feature music, entertainment, refreshments and even more last-day donations.

This year, the Community Christmas Party for Children is relocating from the Stuart Elementary School gymnasium to the much larger Paul Dana Walker Arena on the Lee University campus. The Christmas Party also is taking place on Saturday, Dec. 22, beginning at 8 a.m.

Specific information about both The Empty Stocking Fund and the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund can be found below.

The Empty Stocking Fund

(Community Christmas

Party for Children)

Coordinated through Faith Memorial Church on 17th Street, the Community Christmas Party for Children is currently conducting registration at the church. Here, families can register their children for the shopping event.

Pastor David Riggs of Faith Memorial reports registration is taking place Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additional information may be obtained by calling Faith Memorial at 423-476-6281.

Pastor Riggs said the decision to move the Christmas Party for Children to the much larger Walker Arena “... will allow more room for a more efficient and speedier process when the children come to get their toys, coats and goodies this year.” In the past, the children’s celebration has been held in elementary school gymnasiums like Mayfield and Stuart.

The Empty Stocking Fund, which originated in 1970, now benefits the Community Christmas Party. The party was created by the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, pastor and founder of Faith Memorial Church. Today, the tradition continues through the combined work of the Faith Memorial Church congregation, Riggs and his wife Barbara, and Mix 104.1 Radio. The station is owned by Steve Hartline, grandson of the late Rev. and Mrs. Littlefield.

“What began as a gesture of love with my grandfather — with Rev. Littlefield handing out toys and goodies from his car trunk — has now grown to provide toys, coats and goodies to about 1,000 children every year,” Hartline explained.

The family-friendly community event gives to children, ages infant to 12.

Families preregister at Faith Memorial to allow organizers to get an accurate count and to assure that appropriate toys and goodies are in abundance for the children. A limited supply of coats, whose sizes range from toddler to 16, are also available for children who need them this winter.

Hartline said the partnership between Faith Memorial, The Empty Stocking Fund and WCLE Mix 104.1 — in conjunction with the never-ending support of area residents — has been responsible for the Community Christmas Party’s growth over the years.

The Christmas Party is entering its 64th year. The Empty Stocking Fund, now in its 42nd year, was founded by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and his wife, Sandra, in partnership with the late George R. “Bobby” Taylor, a prominent banker and philanthropist who co-founded the Bank of Cleveland.

“This longstanding tradition is just one of many that reach out to make certain children in our community have a memorable Christmas, and it’s a constant reminder of our mission in life to care for those less fortunate,” Hartline said. “This is what my grandparents, the Rev. and Mrs. Littlefield, began as just a simple gesture of love and outreach. And today, hundreds of volunteers join in to make certain that tradition continues.”

Hartline joined Riggs in thanking elementary schools like Mayfield and Stuart who have generously hosted the Community Christmas Party for Children in their gymnasiums. Likewise, they credited Dr. Paul Conn, Lee University president, and his staff for their willingness to make available the spacious Walker Arena for this year’s festive gathering.

“The move to Lee University was vital due to the growth of the party and being able to get all of our guests in at one time,” the veteran radio newsman and owner explained.

Hartline said last year’s drive raised a little more than $35,000. This year’s goal is $1 more.

“Our goal each year is to raise $1 more than we received the year before,” he stressed. “This community has always, always believed in The Empty Stocking Fund and the outreach of the Community Christmas Party for Children. People in this community believe in giving back, especially when it can benefit families in needed.”

William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund

In life, the former newspaper editor believed in freedom of the press, but he also believed in the potential of the heart and how neighbors can help neighbors in times of need. While delivering the news by day, this community-minded editor worked closely with Associated Charities (a predecessor to United Way) to help local families in need at Christmas.

He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Will L. Rodgers. His father and uncle, the late Walter Rodgers, were owners of the Banner when it changed from a weekly to a daily newspaper in 1922.

Battling polio for years, Rodgers died in his early 30s when stricken by a heart attack caused by complications from his disease.

It the years since, the Basket Fund has been coordinated by organizations like the Bradley County Ministerial Association and the Cleveland Jaycees.

Now, the Basket Fund is operated as a nonprofit organization solely by volunteers, many of whom are members of the First Baptist Church congregation. Other churches lend their support as well.

Todd Duggan and his father Jack have worked with the Basket Fund for years. They reported about 80 volunteers will convene Dec. 22 at Tri-State Exhibition Center to organize and distribute the boxes of food. They advised that additional volunteers are also welcome to assist with boxing up food and delivering it.

This year, 910 families signed up to receive Christmas baskets. Through its history, the Basket Fund always has been able to give food to qualifying families who register for help. Program coordinators also stressed that 100 percent of all donations go directly to the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund.

Donations may be sent to William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland TN 37320-4880. Donations also may be dropped off at First Tennessee Bank, at 3870 Keith St.