Empty Stocking Fund helps local programs provide gifts for all who asked

Contributors to the Empty Stocking Fund have helped ensure that nearly 4,000 area children whose families are struggling won't wake up to bare trees and empty stockings this morning.

This year, The Herald's Empty Stocking Fund gave all of its money to two local programs that provide Christmas gifts to children of needy families. The fund is an annual holiday effort to help needy families in the newspaper's readership area.

The two programs -- Toys for Happiness, created by WRHI radio and the United Way of York County, and The Salvation Army's Angel Tree -- came through for everyone who asked.

"We didn't turn anyone away," said Debbie Hayworth, the United Way's coordinator for Toys for Happiness.

The program ran out of toys several times during the packing process, she said, but the community came through with enough donations to serve even last-minute applicants.

The Salvation Army's Maj. Melody McClure said the Angel Tree program provided Christmas gifts to more than 900 children this year.

"We've got everybody taken care of, and we've helped about 15 families in the last two days who hadn't signed up anywhere else. We're going to help everyone who walks in today," she said Wednesday.

Toys for Happiness gave gifts to more than 1,200 children whose families applied through United Way of York County -- up from just over 500 last year, Hayworth said.

The program also helped at least 1,700 more children whose families applied through two partner agencies -- Parenting Partnerships in the York school district and ParentSmart in Rock Hill.

"There are so many families that are trying to do the best they can," Hayworth said. "They have some income, but the housing costs, the cost of living, is making it very difficult for people who are living on the edge, from paycheck to paycheck."

The program also provides toys for the Rev. Ronal King, who operates a Rock Hill area hunger ministry, to distribute in the areas he serves.

Contributions from the community, businesses, the Empty Stocking Fund and the Toys for Tots program enabled the program to provide gifts for the children, Hayworth said.

"We all pool our resources -- including volunteers who are willing to give their time and effort to ensure families have a warm and happy Christmas," Hayworth said.

"We've had so many saying, 'Thank you very much.'"