One popular Christmas campaign dedicated to putting a smile on the faces of Cleveland and Bradley County children in need has set a record for contributions, and another whose aim is to feed more than 1,000 hungry families is more than halfway to its goal.
Both annual drives, each of which is supported through local news media promotions, will reach their climax Saturday in volunteer-driven distribution events.
The Mix 104.1 WCLE Empty Stocking Fund, whose proceeds pay for the annual Cleveland Christmas Party for Children, put a bright red bow of closure on its 10-day holiday drive last Friday with a final report of $43,800. Additional funds were expected to trickle in.
The Empty Stocking Fund’s goal was one dollar more than that raised last year. In 2012, area residents contributed some $38,000 to the Christmas Party for Children.
Meanwhile, the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, which this year received 1,100 applications for food assistance, is hoping to raise $28,000 for the cause. Currently, the popular Basket Fund — which is an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit coordinated exclusively by volunteers — has received a little more than $15,000.
Unlike the condensed drive anchored by the Cleveland radio station, which generally accepts gifts over a two-week period, the Basket Fund’s campaign is more gradual. Appeals for community support generally kick off at about Thanksgiving and donations will be accepted through mid-January.
The Empty Stocking Fund is now making final preparations for Saturday’s Christmas Party for Children at the Paul Dana Walker Arena on the Lee University campus. The party is expected to provide toys and clothing for as many as 1,000 area children in need. The Christmas Party is a joint venture with Faith Memorial Church.
The party traces its roots back 63 years to the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, former Faith Memorial pastor who founded the church and the Christmas drive.
Following in the Rev. Littlefield’s footsteps are his grandson, Steve Hartline, WCLE owner, and Pastor David Riggs of Faith Memorial who work together to keep the Christmas Party afloat through proceeds raised by the radio station’s Empty Stocking Fund.
While volunteers are coordinating the Christmas Party for Children on Saturday morning, another set of workers will be set up at Tri-State Warehouse to administer the Basket Fund distribution at about the same time. Food baskets include a variety of staples that can be used in preparing a family Christmas meal, and beyond, for those with low or limited incomes. Items in each basket include a hen, bread, peanut butter, cereal, pasta, canned goods, potatoes, flour and candy, among other items.
Food baskets generally weigh about 50 to 60 pounds, according to Todd Duggan who works with his father, Jack, as well as with an assortment of church, civic and business volunteers.
Although the Empty Stocking Fund and Children’s Christmas Party have served as a WCLE Mix 104.1 drive, and the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund has traditionally been promoted through the Cleveland Daily Banner, both campaigns have enjoyed the promotional support of each local news media outlet over the past three years.
The Basket Fund is named after William Hall Rodgers, a former editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner, who died of complications from polio.
The Empty Stocking Fund
Party for Children)
For his efforts in leading the Empty Stocking Fund to another record year, Hartline lightheartedly earned three pies — not just one — in the face during the campaign’s grand finale held last Friday morning in the Professional Development Center at Life Care Centers of America.
“Over the 10-day period I felt the spirit of giving in this community, and it was almost palpable Friday morning during the grand finale at Life Care,” Hartline said shortly after serving as backstop for the flying pies furnished by the Townhouse Bake Shop. “You could feel the love that people have for children in our community. And the pies were delicious!”
He added, “I never doubted that we would reach our goal, but as we do every year, we commit it to God.”
Hartline credited the work of many, as well as contributions of the community, for hitting the Empty Stocking Fund goal. He thanked the radio station’s staff for their campaign work, as well as the vision of Tom and Sandra Rowland, and former Cleveland banker George R. “Bobby” Taylor, for founding the fund 43 years ago.
“I believe that giving, not just to us, but the giving nature of the people of Cleveland and Bradley County, is one of the main reasons that our community has been so blessed,” the longtime radio man offered.
He also praised the mutual support given to the Empty Stocking Fund by the Banner, and the radio station’s endorsements of the Rodgers Basket Fund.
Hartline said Littlefield would be overwhelmed by the Stocking Fund’s progress.
“My grandfather would be amazed by the growth of this event,” he said. “My mother and his daughter, Lois Ann Taylor, said on the radio Friday morning that she wished the Lord would let him see all of the people giving to children. This Christmas Party for Children, and this time of year, were his favorite.”
Yet, Hartline reflected on another of his grandfather’s beliefs.
“He would always ask, that for all the attention that Christmas gets, what will we do for people on December 26th and the rest of the year?” Hartline noted.
He credited Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care Centers of America, as being one of his grandfather’s closest friends.
“Friday morning at our grand finale, Beecher said the gift all comes down to a child, the gift of Christ to us, and the gifts we as a community will give hundreds of children on Saturday [Dec. 21],” Hartline said. “I thank Lee University and [President] Dr. Paul Conn for welcoming us for the second year to their arena. The event has grown so much that it works out perfectly. They are extremely kind and supportive of the community Christmas Party.”
The radio man pointed to a couple of individual donations that brought him to tears.
“I was extremely touched by the gift we received from a single mother who was helped by the Christmas Party for her daughter,” he explained. “She said this year she was able to give to the Empty Stocking Fund.”
He spoke of one other.
“We were on location at Cooke’s Food Store last Thursday morning,” Hartline reflected. “A woman, who wished to remain anonymous, handed me $8 through her car window. She said that her husband had been out of work for several years and that she had nearly died due to illness in the last year. She said that was all she had to give, but she and her husband wanted to be a part of the Empty Stocking Fund.”
He added, “That’s the spirit of this drive. People know that we are all a part of helping these children together. It is a true community project.”
Hartline likened the success of the Empty Stocking Fund and the Christmas Party for Children to the impact of a village on raising a child. It takes many players, he said.
“My grandfather would always count on the Cleveland Daily Banner to publicize the Christmas Party for Children, and I am so grateful to the Banner and their great staff for continuing that tradition,” he stressed.
Hartline used three words to describe the heartfelt attitude of giving within the Cleveland and Bradley County community: “Powerful,” “Compassionate” and “Enduring.”
Hartline also pointed out it is not too late for volunteers to sign up to help at Saturday’s Christmas Party. Anyone who wants to help should contact Faith Memorial Church at 476-6281.
William Hall Rodgers
Like the Christmas Party for Children, the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund distribution can always use more volunteers for Saturday’s distribution, Duggan said. Plus, the Basket Fund drive itself continues to accept donations and will continue to do so through mid-January.
Although the monetary half of the drive is only about halfway to its goal, volunteers must now set their sights on Saturday’s distribution from Tri-State Warehouse. The warehouse will be filled with boxes, food staples and swarms of willing volunteers, he said.
For those still wanting to contribute, donations may be mailed to First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland TN 37320-4880 or dropped off at First Tennessee Bank at 3870 Keith St.
Daily reminders of the Basket Fund are published on the front page of the Cleveland Daily Banner, and will continue to be provided through the end of the calendar year. Periodic updates are provided on donation totals, as well as donor acknowledgements in the Wednesday and Sunday editions of Cleveland’s community newspaper. Requests for anonymity are honored.
“We had more than 1,100 families to sign up this year,” Duggan said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of need out there, and it keeps growing. That means the effort to coordinate the Basket Fund drive is getting bigger as well. And that’s why we always accept the help of additional volunteers.”
Some 80 volunteers traditionally gather for the Basket Fund distribution day. Many are members of the First Baptist Church of Cleveland congregation, but several churches are also represented in the work, Duggan said.
Another group of volunteers is the Bradley Central High School football team whose players will work Saturday to do much of the heavy lifting. Still another group is Bill Gray and his Grace Point Motorcycle Ministry whose riders will personally deliver about 120 of the food baskets to homebound residents.
“All of these people and groups are just a huge help to us,” Duggan said. “We also couldn’t do this without the support of Tri-State Warehouse. They provide us the space and volunteers and donors. They are really key to making this happen.”
But at this point, the biggest Basket Fund need is money. Without achieving the $28,000 goal, the popular annual campaign could be facing a serious shortfall.
“We appreciate every donation that we receive, and to those who already have donated we really thank you,” Duggan stated. “To those who want to help us, and who haven’t as yet, we encourage you to make your contribution as soon as possible.”
Cleveland and Bradley County residents are the heart behind a giving community, he said. That’s why so many Christmas drives are now being held locally, and are succeeding.
“The options out there for helping others at Christmastime are a good thing, but it truly has cut into our donations for the Basket Fund,” Duggan commented. “But looking at it from another perspective, it means that Cleveland and Bradley County — and its people, organizations and companies — are doing everything possible to help area families who are most in need.”
He added, “That’s what the Basket Fund is doing. We know that’s what others are doing as well. We just hope donors will find a way to help us all.”