By Tia Lynn Ivey
Christmas is just around the corner and one local law enforcement agency is doubling as Santa’s helpers this season to “fill stockings” with new toys for boys and girls in Morgan County.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office held its annual Empty Stocking Fund, distributing presents to 94 Morgan County families, comprised of a total of 217 children. Eight volunteers help distribute the toys to each family last week.
“We don’t just give each child a present, we give them their whole Christmas,” said Olivia Laborn, assistant at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.
The Empty Stocking Fund has been a tradition at the Sheriff’s Office for over 20 years, but this year was a little different due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Sheriff’s Office did not accept toy donations this year, and instead asked the community for monetary donations to purchase new toys for qualifying families.
Last week, the Sheriff’s Office held a giveaway to distribute all the new toys for struggling Morgan County families. “We have away about 80 bicycles in addition to all the toys and gave out Pampers and pull-up diapers for the families with young children, too,” said Laborn.
According to Laborn, the Sheriff’s Office purchases toys tailored to each qualifying family’s children, whether they are boys or girls and each child’s age.
“We want their Christmas to be perfect,” said Laborn.
Laborn is grateful to the community for coming through every year with donations to make the Empty Stocking Fund program a success.
“All our contributions come from citizens, businesses, community leaders and organizations,” said Laborn. “We could not do to this every year without them. We appreciate all everyone does each year to help the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office provide toys for needy kids.”
Laborn reflected on the program’s focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
“Christmas should not be about receiving, but giving. And the more we give to others the more God blesses us,” said Laborn. “This all comes from the heart.”
Laborn said the families who received gifts were elated and relieved.
“It was a great feeling being able to help others in need especially during the pandemic time,” said Laborn. “It’s all about working together in the community to make sure others are happy at Christmastime.”
The Empty Stocking Fund has become a valued tradition for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, beginning over 20 years ago under the previous sheriff and carried on by Sheriff Robert Markley when he was elected in 2001.
“It’s a valuable program that helps fill the gap during the holiday season. It helps parents give a good Christmas who might not have a good Christmas,” said Markley last year.
Markley said every year 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.”
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.”
“It’s out of the kindness of the sheriff’s heart and of the hearts of Morgan County citizens that we are able to do this. We will gladly continue to do this every year as long as we have the community’s help,” said Laborn.