DOBSON — For more than 15 years, the Surry County Sheriff’s Office has collected money for a Christmas fund to benefit families, and this year will be no different.
Each year, the office collects money to buy Christmas presents for children and food for needy families.
The office began the campaign in October by sending out letters to potential contributors.
For the gifts, names of needy children are provided by local schools, and then these names are run by the Salvation Army to keep people from receiving services from both organizations.
“We want to make sure that we get everyone covered, but one time,” explained Sheriff Graham Atkinson.
The sheriff is now collecting contributions, and officers will go to Wal-Mart in mid-December to buy the gifts and food. The office takes a list without names to Wal-Mart of the specific gifts they need to buy. Often store employees help them complete the shopping in one day.
The limit is $100 for each child. Atkinson said the thing that makes this campaign different is 100 percent of the donations go back out, and they try to buy the exact gifts that each child wants and needs.
Atkinson said, “We want these kids to have the same opportunity to say, ‘This is exactly what I wanted.’”
The office tries to distribute the gifts quietly so the children think they’re just having a normal Christmas.
“You like kids to be surprised and know their Christmas is just like anyone else,” said Atkinson.
When Atkinson used to teach D.A.R.E. in schools, he got to see firsthand the needs that many children had. Now he helps provide gifts — both toys and clothes — to students all the way up to 12th grade and their younger siblings who are in need. He said for many of his officers who don’t have families, this campaign is their Christmas.
Last year, the sheriff’s office saw its largest pool of children yet. The office helped 278 kids. He said he thought at the time that that would be the peak, but with the continued decline in the economy, this changed.
Atkinson said, “I think it’s going to be our biggest year yet.”
So far the office has collected the names of 250 students, and the list keeps growing.
The first year that the sheriff’s office had a Christmas fund, it gave gifts to 50 children, mostly elementary-school aged. The staff quickly realized that the need was much greater.
“It got bigger and bigger,” said Atkinson. “If we don’t do it, I don’t know who will.”
Last year, the office also gave out 250 food boxes to families and seniors in need. These boxes contain items like ham, potatoes, cookies, Kool-Aid packets, etc. Atkinson said the office usually spends around $7,000 on food.
Atkinson thinks this Christmas fund is a vital part of the sheriff’s office in Surry County. He said, “It’s hard to remember when we didn’t do it.
“It’s good for people to see the sheriff’s office in a positive light and doing something other than locking people up,” Atkinson said.
Contributions are starting to come in, and Atkinson said some people put supportive notes in with their donations. He has faith that the office will raise the amount of money it needs.
He said at one point last year the money was not coming in like they needed. Atkinson said he just had to have faith and believe it was going to work out. Then he got a call out of the blue from a man wanting to help raise money. The man brought a $5,000 check from his business and more money from other businesses, and it was almost exactly the amount the office needed.
The sheriff’s office needs more donations to the fund this year, and it would like to have them in by the first week in December.
“We’ve never ran into excess. There’s always a legitimate need,” said Atkinson.
People can stop by the sheriff’s office in Dobson or mail checks to 218 N. Main St., Dobson, NC 27017. Checks can be made out to Sheriff’s Christmas Fund.
Contact Meghann Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.