ATLANTA - Two of the oldest non-profits in metro Atlanta have teamed up to help bring holiday cheer to tens of thousands of families. When the pandemic disrupted the normal Christmas routine of the Empty Stocking Fund, the YMCA stepped in to help.
Every year for more than 90 years, metro Atlanta families would visit the Empty Stocking Fund's Santa's Village for gifts.
"Typically, we open Santa's Village to the public December 1st for 18 days and serve up to 3,000 children a day," said Manda Hunt, Executive Director of the Empty Stocking Fund.
There are typically 40 to 60 volunteers there at any given time. They knew during COVID-19, they couldn't possibly have that many people in one place at the same time.
"With social distancing, there didn't seem to be a good option for us," said Hunt.
They needed a new strategy. Instead of the families going to Santa's Village, they needed to get all the toys and gifts to families across metro Atlanta.
First, they set up a way for parents to register their children and shop for them online.
"Once we got through the shopping challenge and had our store up and running we moved to the next stage, how are we going to get the gifts safely into the hands of the parents and guardians of these children from all over Atlanta?" said Hunt.
That's when the YMCA of Metro Atlanta jumped in.
"When the Empty Stocking Fund approached us it was an immediate yes!" said Allison Toller with YMCA of Metro Atlanta.
Bags will be packed, loaded into huge boxes, and sent to 18 YMCA locations and early learning centers across metro Atlanta.
"Each bag has a barcode that's assigned to a family. When a family comes to the Y, we should be able to look at our list, and make the handoff," said Toller.
In a year that has taken away so much, some Christmas traditions live on.
"We're just doing whatever we can and doing our part to bring joy to the lives of these children and some hope and pride and empowerment to the parents," said Hunt.
Like most non-profits, the Empty Stocking Fund has had a difficult year. They couldn't do their only big fundraiser because of the pandemic, and Hunt said they're seeing more families in need this year because of job losses during the pandemic.
If you'd like to find out how you can help, you can go to EmptyStockingFund.org.
If you'd like to volunteer to help with the distribution, the YMCA's website is ymcaatlanta.org.
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