The Greene County Christmas Stocking Fund uses donations to help hundreds each Christmas.
Imagine being a child and waking up Christmas morning to discover Santa must’ve missed your letter and there are no new toys for you. Or being a senior citizen opening the door of your pantry and finding it empty because your small income doesn’t increase with the cost of living.
Several decades ago, Gene Wilson determined to make sure the children and elderly of Greene County would not face such disappointments on Christmas Day. Gene and his wife, Natalie, started the Greene County Christmas Stocking Fund, which has been helping holiday dreams come true in Greene County for more than 25 years.
The Wilsons originally started the charity at Walker United Methodist Church in Greensboro.
“At first, it helped only a few families until it grew into something very large,” said Vickie Jenkins, who now oversees the operation with her husband, Lloyd.
No longer affiliated with any church, the independent, not-for-profit Fund now provides toys, clothing and food for 300 children, and a small gift and food to 200 senior citizens each Christmas.
“Gene said it was his way of giving back,” Vickie explained. “He said his family needed help when he was a child and he remembered people helping them, so that’s what he wanted to do.”
About 10 years ago, the Jenkins had lived in Greensboro for about a year and Lloyd was working at the Walker Church Fire Department. Hal Stewart also was a volunteer firefighter there; and Hal and his wife, Betty, also were operating the Christmas Stocking Fund at that time. One day, Hal asked Lloyd if he wanted to get involved with the Christmas Fund, and like any smart husband, Lloyd replied that he would talk with his wife about it and maybe they could help out.
“And Hal said, ‘I think you misunderstood what I meant. I don’t want you to just help out, I want you to take it over for us. I want you to work with us this year and learn how it operates and then take it over completely and run it next year,” Vickie recalled. “That was in July or August, and we agreed to try it; but one month later, Hal was diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer, so we got it right away.”
Because it was all new to them, Vickie said they couldn’t have made it without experienced people in the church helping them.
The entire operation runs as smoothly as Santa’s shop at the North Pole. In only eight weeks of time, 50-60 volunteers process applications, seek out monetary donations and grants, shop for toys, gather donated toys, shop for clothing, and purchase food vouchers, separate all the items by age, gender and family, and deliver them before Christmas. It takes approximately $25,000 for 300 children to receive three toys each and two articles of clothing each, and their family to receive a $50 food voucher, and for 200 senior citizens to receive a blanket or a cup and a $50 food voucher, Vickie said, noting actual food is not given, but a certificate to buy food at Moon’s or Ingle’s in Greensboro.
“We are all volunteer-run,” she emphasized of the 501(c)3 organization; “no one is paid a salary and less than 5 percent of the money is spent on expenses. It all goes to the needy children and senior citizens in Greene County.”
The Fund is not affiliated with any church, although it does use Greensboro First United Methodist Church and Walker United Methodist Church’s facilities for some events. Also, it has nothing to do with, and thus should not be confused with, the Empty Stocking Fund.
How it works:
1) Donations – The first of September, Lloyd and Vickie contact local churches, businesses, organizations and individuals for grants and money. “Every year, we don’t know what we are going to get, but we always get what we need,” Vickie said. “Everybody is so generous.”
2) Applications -- In the fall, GCCSF volunteers host an event at Greensboro FUMC for needy people in the community to fill out applications. All applicants must provide everyone in the household’s social security number and income, must meet the federal poverty guidelines, must have a child younger than 13, or must be 62 or older. Then, volunteers verify all the information and assign each family a number for organizational purposes. This year’s application process is already finished and closed.
3) Toys – The first week of November, Lloyd and other volunteers, who Vickie dubbed “the elves,” put out boxes around town for donations of new toys. “We receive a lot of donations through that,” she said. The boxes will be picked up on Dec. 16 this year.
4) Senior Citizens – On December 11, the small gift (usually a blanket or a mug) and food vouchers will be distributed to the seniors at the senior center.
5) Clothes – The volunteers shop for two shirts for each child, purchasing them through Walmart online. On Dec. 12 at Walker UMC, volunteers sort the clothing, dividing it into sizes/ages and gender. That same day, the clothes are packed into bags with the recipient family’s number on the bag, closed up and stored.
6) Packing toys – The toys will be sorted on Dec. 19 and packed into bags that contain the family’s assigned number. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Vickie said. “If there aren’t three toys for every child, then we go out shopping to get them.”
7) Deadline – “We cannot take any toys after we pick up the boxes Dec. 16,” Vickie emphasized. “People try to bring toys up to two days before Christmas, but we can’t use them. When you’re packing 900 toys for 300 children, you have to do it ahead of time.” Toys donated after the deadline are given to Toys For Tots or a neighboring organization such as Circle of Love or Putnam County Fire Department (which also helps out needy families each Christmas).
8) Quality toys – Only new toys are accepted. Also, Vickie reminds donors that most of the families do not have computers or Internet access, so computer games cannot be used. No bicycles are accepted, either, because they would need one for all 300 children. Also, please don’t clean out your closets to find your donations. “We’ve received key chains before – 50 key chains. Think about it, what kid wants to wake up Christmas morning to a key chain or a used toy or a pair of socks?” she said.
9) Money – The best way to help is by donating money. Checks made out to GCCSF can be mailed to P.O. Box 741, Greensboro, GA 30642.
10) Distribution – Local high school students help GCCSF volunteers distribute the bags of clothing and toys, and the food vouchers to the families on Dec. 20. “We don’t get the excitement of seeing the children receive the gifts,” Vickie explained. “We are providing that excitement to the parents who can’t provide for their children.”
In recent years, the Fund has seen a reduction in the numbers of children needing help, Vickie said, noting that teen pregnancy prevention programs in the schools and at Atlas Ministries are helping in that aspect. “But we’re also seeing a lot more of the working poor, and some with absolutely no income whatsoever. We realize that some take advantage of it; but we can’t make it so difficult to receive that the children won’t get anything. It’s not the children’s fault, so our board made the decision to take care of the children.”
Last year, Vickie said a senior citizen came who had lost her job when a plant closed. The woman told them she had never accepted help from anyone before, but she could no longer afford food after losing her job.
“She stood in line a long time for a $15 gift and a $50 food voucher,” and we’re glad we could help her,” Vickie said. “Lloyd and I feel so blessed to work with a community that is so giving in its skills, time and donations. Very blessed.”
This article, written by Lynn Hobbs with photos contributed by Vickie Jenkins, appeared in the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of Lakelife magazine.