By Patrick Yost, Editor
More than 100 families representing 250 children aged infant to 12-years-old had a merrier Christmas last Friday thanks to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Empty Stocking program.
Parents and guardians who had signed up for the program through an application published in the Morgan County Citizen arrived throughout the day at the Morgan County Public Safety Center where trustees and volunteers delivered large bags of toys for the parents to take home, wrap and deliver to children on Christmas day.
The toys have either been donated, according Olivia Laborn, an administrative assistant at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office who also serves at the program’s chairperson, or money donated was used to purchase items at the local Walmart. Labon said two anonymous donors contributed 40 new bicycles for this year’s Empty Stocking Fund.
Laborn said community volunteers and trustees work to compile the bags of toys that line the hallways of the public safety center waiting for pickup. “You come back here with a cheerful heart and a mind of giving,” Laborn said.
Laborn said the volunteers, including the trustees at the detention center “are not ordinary peopel. These are people who really have the sprit of the Lord in them.”
A 42-year-old trustee who is currenlty incarcerated on a parole violation stemming from a terroristic threats conviction said he typically spends his days cleaning county roads or doing janitorial work at the public safety center but during the Empty Stocking Fund he has packed, organized and helped deliver toys to parents. “This here is going to touch a kids heart,” he said. “I have nieces and nephews and I love them to death and I wish I could be there with them during Christmas but I can’t.”
He said while preparing the bag of toys he was directed by Laborn to “pack ‘em with love.”
The program has been active for more than 20 years.
Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley siad he was happy to continue a program started before he became sheriff. “It’s a valuable prtogram that helps fill the gap during the holiday season. It helps parents give a good Christmas who might not have a good Christmas.”
Markley said the flood of donations from church groups, industry and individuals keep the program alive. “The community has been very generous to the program and has supported it throughout the years.”
Laborn said participants are thankful for the gesture. All participants must be Morgan County Department of Family and Children Services recipients and need a helping hand. “You can tell by the glow in people’s eyes they appreciate it,” she said.
For Markley, the Empty Stocking Fund has become a tradition he will continue as long as he is in office. “This feels like its a part of Christmas,” he said.
“This is the way Christmas is supposed to be.”