While the Discovery HS Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program is new to the school, its 127 cadets are already working to make their mark on Gwinnett, serving the community through the unit’s support of the Empty Stocking Fund, one of the oldest and most well-known charities in the area.
“Metro Atlanta JROTC programs have been supporting the Empty Stocking Fund for more than 40 years,” says Lt. Col. Robert Rooker (U.S. Army, retired), the Titan Battalion’s senior instructor. “We are proud to be the first Army JROTC program to participate in the Empty Stocking Fund drive in Gwinnett County.”
The 91-year old charitable organization purchases brand-new items to offer a variety of age- and gender-appropriate choices. In December, parents and guardians of eligible children (birth to age 12) are invited to visit Santa’s Village and select gifts for their children. Individuals and companies that raise funds have the opportunity to volunteer as Santa’s helpers.
Of the battalion’s fundraising efforts, Lt. Col. Rooker says 31 cadets met the challenge of raising at least $50, earning a special ribbon to wear on their uniforms. The top three fundraisers collectively pulled in more than $800. As a battalion, the cadets collected almost $4,300, through donations from friends, family, and members of the community. A group of 48 cadets raised $1,550 of the total by requesting donations from shoppers at two Kroger locations.
Cadet Lt. Col. Jocelin Crisantos, a Discovery HS senior who serves as the cadet commander for Titan Battalion, was among the top 20 fundraisers in the unit, earning the opportunity to volunteer at Santa’s Village on Dec. 10. During their four-hour shift, the 20 volunteers worked with families at the in-processing station, helped parents select gifts in the show room, pulled selections from the warehouse, and assisted families to check out.
The cadet commander says she enjoyed meeting people who benefited from the program her unit’s donations supported. “A service project like the Empty Stocking Fund is important because it gives us the opportunity to help the community,” she says. “We feel better giving and helping others than receiving.”
Lt. Col. Rooker agrees. He notes that the JROTC Service Learning curriculum includes a focus on direct service, indirect service, and advocacy. “The Empty Stocking Fund’s Santa’s Village and Kroger Drives allowed our cadets to experience all three of these facets of service… to give back and see how lucky they are,” he says. “Despite some of the family struggles in our community, our students had the opportunity to see first-hand the challenges of others.” Santa’s Village still open to help families put gifts under the tree.
Santa’s Village still open to help families put gifts under the tree
For some families, the holidays are not as merry due to economic hardship. Since 1927, the Empty Stocking Fund has helped put gifts under the tree for children receiving public assistance. This year, the organization was unable to invite families to participate via the usual channels. As a result, Santa’s Village still has plenty of gifts for eligible children!
But time is running out… the Village will close at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22.
Parents and guardians of children (birth to age 12) who receive any form of public assistance (CAPS, Medicaid, Peach Care, SSI, SNAP, or TANF) are invited to Santa’s Village to select gifts for their child. Parents should bring a photo ID and current proof of benefits for all children for whom they are picking up gifts. (Children are welcome but don’t have to be there.)
At Santa’s Village, volunteers (like the JROTC cadets from Discovery HS) walk parents through the showroom to choose two toys and a book for each eligible child. Each child also receives a package of socks and an educational item. The showroom is organized by gender and age, so it’s easy to find the perfect gift.
Santa’s Village is located at 970 Jefferson St. NW in Atlanta. (Visitors should park only in designated spots.)
Hours in this final week are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (the last day). “We want these last few days to be busy, busy, so please send families our way!” says Empty Stocking Fund Executive Director Manda Hunt. She says no eligible family will be turned away if they are in line when Santa’s Village closes at 5 p.m. on Saturday. “Volunteers will serve every child whose parent or guardian is in line at that time.”