Inside an unassuming building near Chickamauga, you’ll find the instruments of happiness for thousands of children.
“We as a Sheriff’s Office are willing to give back and help people down on their luck, out of a job. We do have a heart,” said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson. “Yes, we have to be stern and enforce the law and bring people to jail. Just because we do enforce the law doesn’t mean we’re not compassionate toward those who are down and out and less fortunate than the rest of us.”
In 1989, the late Sheriff Al Millard created the Stocking Full of Love program to provide toys to children in need in Walker County. 37 children received presents that first year.
“The most we’ve ever had, that was really an overwhelming year we had over 2,000 kids representing over 700 families. It was probably at the height of the recession,” said Deputy Bruce Coker. “And I would say that was driving that because we had a lot of people that partook of the program that year but haven’t since.”
It takes about $50,000 to run the program each year. Along with private donations, organizers hold a number of fundraisers including a car show, gospel sing and motorcycle run. “Most of the toys are purchased at a discounted rate from retailers in Walker County,” added Sheriff Wilson. “We typically get a great deal, discounted off the retail price and that makes our buying power much stronger.”
Those in need of assistance can apply in November at the Sheriff’s Office in LaFayette, Rossville Police Department and Walker County Department of Family and Children Services in Rock Spring. If approved, they’ll receive a time to come shop the “toy store” in mid-December.
“My favorite part of the whole program is seeing the fruit of our labor, when the families come to pick up the toys,” said Coker. Each child in the family receives three large toys, along with some stocking stuffer type items.
“There will be 600 to 700 people there and we’ll bring them in 10 at a time and just seeing their reactions when they see that gym converted into a toy store is worth every bit of the time we put into it.”
Volunteers are needed to set up the toy store on December 13th and help families shop on December 14th. If you can help, Sheriff Wilson says just drop by Oakwood Baptist Church in Chickamauga either day and work what you can. “They can come at 8:00 and stay until 10:00 or come at 10:00 and stay until 12:00, whatever works best for their schedule. We’re not picky if they’re willing to help us out”
If you’d rather make a financial donation, those can be sent to the
Al Millard Memorial Stocking Full of Love Fund
P.O. Box 767
LaFayette, GA 30728