Frederick Dalton is 83 and living off disability checks, but he makes sure he sets aside part of his modest income each year to help the less fortunate in his community.
"You try to do a little bit with what you have left over," said Dalton, whose holiday giving always includes a check to The Herald's Empty Stocking Fund.
The number of families out of work and in need this time of year, he said, reminds him of growing up in the Great Depression.
"When I was a little tot back in the '30s, Christmas was pretty scant," he said. "If we got one or two toys, we were delighted."
Nancy and Ian Davidson have lived in Rock Hill almost 50 years. They worked and raised their three children here. And now they give back where they can, including to the Empty Stocking Fund.
"It's one way we can help out, providing Christmas for children in Rock Hill," said Nancy Davidson, who worked 26 years in the library at Winthrop University. "It's geared to children, which appeals to us."
Mathilde Pester has sent a check to the fund for the past several years and said simply, "Christmas is a good time to think about your neighbors."
One check at a time, Herald readers fill the stocking to help others in their community.
Bette Christensen, the Herald staffer who handles donations to the fund, said many donations are small - $10, $20 or $30 - and come from modest neighborhoods.
But they add up.
The 27-year-old fund now raises $20,000 to $25,000 each year to help fill local stockings with toys and - since last year - pantries with food.
The Empty Stocking Fund coordinates with the United Way and other holiday assistance programs in the newly formed Sleigh Bell Network, which brings the efforts together to help the most families while reducing duplication.
While some organizations focus specifically on food or toys, the Empty Stocking Fund collects cash donations, allowing it to be flexible and fill in gaps in needs, Herald Publisher Debbie Abels said.
"We can keep our eyes on where shortages are and make sure we're not duplicating efforts," Abels said.
If the Salvation Army doesn't get enough Angels to "adopt" all the families in its Angel Tree program, for example, the Empty Stocking Fund can pitch in.
Last year, for the first time, the fund paid for 2,000 boxes of food to be distributed to families who needed them. This year, 2,100 boxes will be given out.
Another area in which the Empty Stocking Fund can make a big difference is bicycles. They are always at the top of many kids' wish lists, but there are never enough to go around.
Using the cash from generous donors, the Empty Stocking Fund can order new bikes to be distributed - this year, Abels has already ordered 46.
While most of the Sleigh Bell Network partners serve York County, the Empty Stocking Fund extends its reach into the three counties in which The Herald has readership - York, Chester and Lancaster.
"Depending on the address where the donation comes from, we channel the money back to that county," unless someone requests otherwise, Abels said.
Despite some differences in the programs, she added, all the organizations in the Sleigh Bell Network are working for a common goal.
"Every year we see increasing need," Abels said. "It makes a big difference to families."
Want to help?
Checks should be made out to: Empty Stocking Fund, c/o United Way of York County
Mail checks to: Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 10921, Rock Hill, SC 29731 or drop them off at The Herald, 132 W. Main St., Rock Hill.
Contributors can choose to have their names published in The Herald.