As the calendar shifts into October, many locals think of the cool fall days, Halloween decorations, and late-season harvest time.
But for some hoping to ensure local kids and teens have a Merry Christmas, now is the time to get to work for the holiday season.
The annual Give A Kid A Christmas program, launched by former sheriff Graham Atkinson more than three decades ago, will prepare for the fundraising portion of its activities over the next week.
“The foundation board met last week,” said Surry County school superintendent Dr Travis Reeves. “We have letters ready, we are printing them and merging the mail to be sent… These will be sent in the next few days. This is really the kick off of our fundraising.
The event, started about 30 years ago when Atkinson, then an assistant serving as a DARE officer in the local school system, is a massive effort to join the county school system, the Give A Kid A Christmas foundation, the office of the Surry County Sheriff under the leadership of Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt and local businesses and volunteers.
Through various fundraising efforts, the foundation will collect money to help buy needed goods – mainly food and clothing for underprivileged families – as well as some fun Christmas gifts for children and teenagers. While fundraising, school counselors work with the Salvation Army to identify children from families who might have vacation needs, then the program culminates around Christmas, when an army of volunteers prepares large boxes of food for the families, while other volunteers use the funds raised to buy clothes and toys for the children.
Then other volunteers deliver them all to households in the community.
“For over 30 years, the Give A Kid A Christmas Foundation has been a staple here in Surry County Schools helping our pupils with food, clothing, bare necessities and toys,” said Reeves.
The program was not always so elaborate.
Atkinson, who has served in Raleigh on the governor’s post-release and parole board since retiring from the sheriff’s office in 2015, said he had no idea starting a move countywide that would last beyond his time with the sheriff’s office.
He often recounted how the program began, when he noticed a child in need at a local elementary school.
“I noticed the young guy was wearing the same clothes every time I was there,” he said in 2019 when launching the fundraiser that year. “They were obscenely small clothes. I started asking some of his teachers, and they told me he wore the same set of clothes to school every day. Ever since he was in third grade.
He asked for help, finding it at Walmart, who helped the deputy get enough clothes for this young man to provide him with a modest new wardrobe.
“If you had given him a gold bar, it wouldn’t have meant any more to him. For the rest of the year, his clothes might not always be clean, but he wore these (new) clothes and he was proud of them.
From that beginning and a desire to help more and more children each year, Atkinson’s Give A Kid A Christmas program has grown.
This week, Atkinson said he never found out what happened to that child, but he recounted a few other heartbreaking incidents along the way.
“In one of our very early years, we used to ask guidance counselors to help us get names (of children to help). I got a request from a 17 year old woman, when she wrote down what she wanted for Christmas, she wrote down that she wanted an axe.
“Now the law enforcement officer in me started to worry. But…I learned that this little girl’s dad was disabled. Well-meaning neighbors got together and cut a load of wood, but they had cut it down to chimney length, and all they had for warmth was a wood stove. She wanted an ax to split the wood.
“I delivered this one in person. She got the axe, although we didn’t make that one in school,” he hastened to add. “She got an axe, but she also has other things a 17-year-old girl should have for Christmas.”
Another story he shared brought back raw emotion, as the former sheriff said he still chokes up recounting the memory.
“I was going through the applications when I came across a third year boy,” he said. “I don’t need anything,” the child had written. “But my little sister is 3 years old and she would really like a doll.
“Again, the little girl received a doll, but the boy also received Christmas presents. It was very early when we started doing this, but it set the tone for what we do today. It was then that we realized that we should include siblings who are not of school age.
Now, he said, when they identify a home in need, they try to provide gifts for all the children and teenagers in the household, and enough food for the family to get through the holidays. Christmas at school. Atkinson explained that for many children in Surry County, the only food they have each day is breakfast and lunch provided by the school, with no dinner at home available some evenings.
“You can imagine how difficult it is for a two-week Christmas break.”
how to help
Reeves said there are plenty of opportunities for people to help out. Many groups in schools – from student clubs collecting change to faculty and staff organizing fundraising campaigns – are working to give to the project.
A number of area residents and businesses are also donating.
The biggest fundraiser is what they call an annual “telethon”, which is a live-streamed event similar to TV shows that raise money for various causes. Reeves said the event, which will be hosted by former TV weatherman and current local pastor Austin Caviness, as well as former TV presenter Cameron Kent, is scheduled for Nov. 28. It will be broadcast live on Facebook and possibly other outlets.
“We raised $30,000, $40,000 in one night,” he said of the telethon. “A lot of people look to this date to give.”
Although that seems like a sizable number, the effort will use every dollar, and more.
“Last year we raised money to buy food and clothes for around 700 children,” he said. “We have provided over 350 boxes of food…and the boxes of food weigh between 50 and 60 pounds. That’s a lot of food.
On average, he said they spent about $140 per child on clothes and toys.
For those wishing to donate to the effort, there are several ways:
– Send a check to Sheriff Atkins’ Give A Kid A Christmas Foundation, PO Box 827 Dobson, NC 27017
– Send a donation via PayPal to https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/giveakidachristmas
– Sent a donation via Venmo using the email [email protected]
For more information, visit the foundation’s Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/giveakidachristmas