VALDOSTA — About 1,000 Valdosta children will receive two toys, a stocking stuffer and a truck or stuffed animal from the Empty Stocking Fund this year.

For Marce Denson, a Valdosta State University student with three kids, the Empty Stocking Fund lightens the load of buying presents and makes sure there are wrapped gifts under the tree come Christmas morning.

Denson left the Salvation Army, 320 Smithland Place, this week with a truck and coloring book for her 5-year-old son, a Nerf football for her 12-year-old son and body spray for her 15-year-old daughter.

She said the Empty Stocking Fund for is a blessing for parents like her who struggle to buy presents for their kids. 

"It's awesome for the community and really helps," Denson said.

Lt. Tasha Thomas with the Salvation Army helped pass out presents Dec. 19-20 in the Army's gymnasium.

She said there were enough presents for 898 children and 100 teens. Parents were registered to come by the Salvation Army at a specific day and time months in advance.

Thousands of presents and money were raised this year to ensure parents had presents to put under the tree.

"Christmas is a time when everyone wants to provide for their family," Thomas said. "It's a time when you're supposed to give gifts and if you are unable to do that, there are emotional effects. We are aware of that, and we get to relieve some of that stress."

Pamela Starr, a case worker for the Salvation Army, said it is a rewarding experience seeing parents pick out presents for their kids.

She has seen parents shed tears of joy after finding the perfect gift for their kid.

"It's like a treasure hunt," Starr said. "They come in here looking for the best things."

She said she wants to see the fund continue to grow because of the tremendous service it provides the community. 

The community recognizes the service and shows its gratitude every year, she said.

"We have such support from the community for the Empty Stocking Fund," Starr said. "We are so blessed with what we are able to give to the people of this community."

The Empty Stocking Fund is a partnership between The Valdosta Daily Times, the Salvation Army and Guardian Bank. For decades, it has provided toys for children with the goal of no child awaking Christmas morning to an empty stocking in the Valdosta-area.

Donations are still accepted for the Empty Stocking Fund next year. Donations may be sent to: Empty Stocking Fund, c/o Margie Blanton, Guardian Bank, P.O. Box 3400, Valdosta, Ga. 31604.

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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