NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - There is a major change this year in the organization of charitable Christmas toy programs in Nacogdoches. Several non-profits have combined into one organization. They're making the move to cut down on the number of fraudulent applications.
It means a demise to Empty Stocking, the longest running charitable Christmas program in Nacogdoches.
A roundtable discussion similar to this one led to a new charitable organization.
"We have joined forces for Nacogdoches County Christmas blessings," said Patti Goodrum, the director of Love In the Name of Christ. "It will be under Love INC's umbrella."
It means a bittersweet goodbye to the well known non-profit, Empty Stocking. For the first time in about 15 years, Sherry Williford won't be chairing the fund drive.
"There was a time when we were the only thing in town pretty much," Williford said.
These images from 1997 show Empty Stocking founder, Barbara Ball, collecting toys for 700 children. The Child Protective Services employee began the toy drive 23 years earlier.
"The Barbie dolls are always good sellers," Ball said.
That hasn't changed, but what is different is the buying list grew three-fold to over 2,000 children. Donations dropped off. Toy prices increased.
"So we noticed that we were able to offer less and less for the children and we've been less and less satisfied with what we were giving the kids," said Kim Barton, a former Empty Stocking volunteer.
But the turning point happened last year. Too many recipients tried to cheat the non-profit.
"We had 10 families at one time that filled out applications all for the same children," Williford said. "We caught it as we were packing toys."
If not caught, more than $2,000 worth of toys would have gone out the door to fraudulent households.
The decision was made to collaborate with Love INC, shared blessings. Now it's called "Christmas Blessings," which has a stringent application process.
"Our volunteers from the different organizations will come together and review all those applications and send out an acceptance card and invite them to the event," Goodrum said.
"They'll come and be able to pick out items for their children and take them with them," Williford said. "This will allow us to serve even more kids, hopefully, that are in need."
There will still be a donation drive at Walmart, but donors will see Christmas Blessings on the collection can. And Toys for Tots will continue collecting toys, handing the vast majority over to Christmas Blessings.
"We usually have about 40-45 drop boxes around town in all the banks and different locations, and we'll still have that," said Ronnie Bowser, the Toys for Tots chair.
And Williford and Barton will still volunteer. Their cause will be the same ... making sure children in need have Christmas Blessings.
Now here are some important dates and volunteering opportunities to remember.
The Christmas blessings application process runs the entire month of November. They can be picked up and turned in at Love in the Name of Christ's office at 917 Ruby Street.
Acceptance cards will be mailed in early December. Volunteers are needed to review applications.
The Christmas Blessings can drive is December 7th at the Nacogdoches Walmart.
Volunteers are needed to set up Christmas Blessings on December 16 and 17th at the University Mall.
Christmas Blessings is December 18th at the University Mall.