Empty Stocking Fund celebrates 24 years

November 19, 2018

As the partnership between the Odessa American and the Salvation Army turns 24 this year we are celebrating with a whole new way to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund that helps needy Odessans celebrate a merry Christmas.

Starting Thanksgiving Day an Odessa tradition of giving is back and it has nothing to do with turkey day but everything to do with a merry Christmas.

The Empty Stocking Fund, a joint effort of the Odessa American and the Salvation Army, will again ask Odessans to extend a hand to their neighbors who are struggling. This year donors may still bring in or mail their donation or go online to donate.

While this booming Odessa economy has been a blessing, there are still many in our area who do not make oilfield wages. In fact, the need is greater than ever as 2018 has sent many low income Odessa families into difficult times, and a merry Christmas may not be in the picture for some.

The Empty Stocking Fund seeks to raise $100,000 this year to help build holiday food baskets for the needy and to provide small gifts for both seniors and young children. The fund has raised more than $1.8 million since 1995.

Donate at either the Salvation Army, 810 E. 11th St., or at the Odessa American, 4001 E. 42nd St., second floor. Call 332-0738 or 333-7740.

This year, you may also go online to donate.

All funds raised stay in Ector County and any leftover funds are used for Odessa Salvation Army programs year round.

Odessa Salvation Army Lt. Clara Gomez said there are about 292 families who have applied for help and been accepted so far. Others continue to fill out the paperwork needed to be a part of the Empty Stocking.

“We are still taking emergencies and working with other agencies to take those families who really need the assistance,” Gomez said, adding that includes about 400 children. “When you give to the Empty Stocking, it is helping out your community in need.”

OA Editor Laura Dennis, who has been involved with the Fund since it started, agreed. “We are always so thankful for our friends and neighbors who come together to help fill this need. Imagine not being able to have a holiday meal or gifts for your children. This is a great way to help the very neediest in our community.”

Last year, Dennis said, a last-minute anonymous donation pushed the Empty Stocking Fund to $96,811, just a wee bit shy of the $100,000 goal for 2017.

“We have seen there is a huge need and we would like to be able provide some normalcy to those who are struggling financially. When you give to the Empty Stocking Campaign, it is helping out your community in need,” Gomez said.

There are a number of Salvation Army programs that aim to help families in need during Christmas.

“We are aware there is a huge need in the area. The families that sign up for Angel Tree are struggling to make it, even if their pay is decent, because of the cost of living,” Gomez explained. “We screen for income verses expenses and it is astonishing to see that many people are living beyond their means even with them working 1-2 jobs. We have also seen multiple families living in one household because that is the only way they can survive financially.”

Gomez and her husband, Lt. Juan Gomez, will be at the helm of this year’s Salvation Army holiday events for the first time.

The stories include real situations of those who have gone through the Empty Stocking Fund process of providing proof of need. The OA uses fake names but real situations.

The OA also runs daily totals to keep up with how much money has been raised and how much is still needed to fill the Empty Stocking. Right before Christmas the funds are used to purchase food and small gifts for children and seniors.

“We know there are many, many wonderful charities out there that do great work,” Dennis said. “But we are asking our friends and neighbors to again help the Salvation Army make sure that the neediest of Odessans know the joy of a great Christmas meal. We also want to help children celebrate the joy of the season with small gifts.”

All funds stay in Ector County, Dennis said.

“We hope to hit the goal this year,” Dennis said. “Imagine waking up Christmas morning with no gifts under the tree and not even a holiday meal. It’s heartbreaking.”

As a kick off to the holiday season, the Salvation Army will again host a free Thanksgiving Community Lunch. The event is open to everyone and food is served 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Salvation Army gym, 810 E. 11th St.

Gomez said volunteers are needed from about 7 a.m. until after the meal is served. They are also asking for donations of food including turkeys, pies, rolls and corn or green beans. For more information or to volunteer, call 332-0738.

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