A volunteer pulled Sheriff Graham Atkinson aside last year during the “Give A Kid A Christmas” shopping session at Walmart.
“She was emotional,” Atkinson recalled. She was living proof that the annual holiday gift donation program really does make a difference.
“What she was trying to tell me was she was there shopping because when we first started doing this program, she was one of the kids on the receiving end,” said the sheriff. “She was now able to make a donation and to shop, to help with it. She was giving back what had been given to her 20 years ago. By the time she got done she was crying, and I was too.”
What began with the law enforcement officer trying to help an individual student more than 25 years ago has blossomed into an annual program that in 2015 served more than 700 students.
Each year, donations are used to purchase essentials and fun stuff for local children who otherwise may not have any gifts on Christmas or even basic necessities.
Things are well underway this year, Atkinson reports.
After meeting with the Salvation Army, the organization which helps identify families in need, “we have committed ourselves to a minimum of 600 kids that we plan to spend $110 each on,” he said. “We’ve committed ourselves to 225 boxes of food that we will distribute through the county schools for those kids that need it while their out on Christmas break. We’ve also committed ourselves to 25 other boxes of food for elderly or shut-in individuals that we have identified.”
The only problem at this point, the sheriff said, is that funds to cover that many children are about $30,000 short.
However, running behind on donations is a reliable holiday tradition, Atkinson said.
“The county has never let us down, and I don’t think they will this year,” he said. “As best I know, we have never left a need unfulfilled that we knew about in time, and that’s not the sheriff’s office. The community always steps up. We’re just a conduit that it runs through.”
Folks who wish to donate may mail a check to the sheriff’s department or drop off a donation at the office on Main Street in Dobson.
Atkinson provided several reasons the program has been able to continue and grow over the years.
“They have confidence if they’re giving money to this they know where their money is going,” Atkinson said. “There’s no administrative costs; there’s nothing tied to it.”
Give A Kid A Christmas also reflects a true community effort that covers the entire county.
“It’s not specific to a certain school or certain community,” he said.
It also raises awareness about some of the challenges faced by some of the less fortunate children in Surry County.
“A lot of times there’s things people have thought about that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have a reason to,” he said, “which is the kids that depend on school breakfast or school lunch for food. When they’re out of school for 12 to 15 days, that’s a long time to go not knowing where your meal is coming from.”
The sheriff also mentioned the word-of-mouth factor.
“The hard part is always getting people to volunteer for the first time,” he said. “If they ever volunteer one time and come out and have any part of it at all, they’ll be back next year and they’ll bring somebody with them.”
Many of those involved are simply looking for a way to give back and share their own blessings, said Atkinson said.
Folks that want to go beyond a monetary donation will have two volunteering opportunities.
On Saturday, Dec. 10, volunteers will pack food boxes at 8.a.m. at Surry Central High School.
“If anybody wants to help with that just show up and we’ll put you to work,” Atkinson said.
On the following Tuesday, the shopping spree will start at 8 a.m. at Walmart in Mount Airy.
Volunteers will be provided a list for a child that includes all the information: sizes, colors and what’s needed in a priority order.
Shoppers just take the list, find the items in the store and bring it up front.
“We’ll bag it up and give it to the kids,” Atkinson said. “There’s not a lot of guesswork involved.”
Several local businesses have already held fundraisers in support of the program and many will continue to do so, the sheriff said.
The Eldora Ruritan Club will host Christmas program on Dec. 3 and the Ararat Volunteer Fire Department will host a breakfast.
Give A Kid A Christmas is a source of pride for Atkinson, not because of the program itself, but because of the community that supports it.
“I have talked to other sheriffs in the state just as recently as last week,” he said, mentioning some from more wealthy counties with higher tax bases.
“When we tell them what we do here, they shake their head and say, ‘we couldn’t pull that off,’” he said. “It makes me feel good when I come back to Surry County, as distressed as we have been economically and the size of population we have, I come back here and our county still pulls it off every year. I think that’s something the whole county should take pride in.”
To donate, checks can be made out to “Sheriff’s Christmas Fund,” and mailed to P.O. Box 827, Dobson, 27017, or dropped off at the sheriff’s office at 218 N. Main Street, Dobson.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.