Cox volunteer Erica Klaw (right) gathered gifts in the warehouse for shoppers at Santa’s Village. The Empty Stocking Fund’s toy and gift warehouse and distribution center for more than nine decades has served metro Atlanta children. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

Empty Stocking Fund takes over metro school donation program

A longtime Atlanta charity that usually gives Christmas gifts to children in need has branched out to include school supplies. 

The Empty Stocking Fund is taking over the Kids In Need program from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the organizations announced Tuesday.

Since 2000, Kids In Needs has run a store giving away school and art supplies to teachers who work at schools where at least 80% of the students are enrolled in the federal program for free or reduced meals.

Of the 89 schools in the Atlanta Public Schools district, all but about 10 would qualify for the program, said Rachel Sprecher, an Empty Stockings board member who also heads the APS Office of Partnerships and Development. She estimates the new partnership could one day double the amount of fully stocked backpacks students get at the start of the school year.

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The Empty Stocking Fund’s board also includes Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor Kevin Riley.

Empty Stocking executive director Manda Hunt said they will keep a smaller version of the Kids In Need school supplies store running at 970 Jefferson St. NW but also package class kits and send them teachers to streamline the process.

Bruce Beecham moves pallets of donated food items at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. (Curtis Compton /

Food bank CEO Kyle Waide said this move has been in the works for two years. Several years ago, he said, the food bank started looking at groups to take over Kids In Need so the food bank could focus more on its core program of feeding children in need.

Waide said the food bank often incubates community programs like Kids In Need. “We have done this before, and I’m sure we’ll do it again. It was time to give it a new environment.”

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Part of that transition included a one-time financial donation to help Empty Stocking begin the work. Waide declined to give the amount of the donation but said it was “substantial.”

Hunt said the Empty Stocking’s new management, which starts July 1, begins a new chapter for the group. Hunt said the 91-year-old organization wants to be a hub that aggregates donations for the metro area’s numerous non-profits as a way to “increase the overall impact of some of these very, very fragmented school drives.”

Gift items are shown that will be given away by the Empty Stocking Fund during the annual Santa's Village, held on Tuesday, December 1, 2015. Each year, parents and guardians of more than 40,000 children come to Santa's Village to select gift items for their children. Santa's Village is The Empty Stocking Fund's gift distribution center for Fulton and DeKalb counties. Each year, parents and guardians of children from birth to 12 years of age living in poverty come to Santa's Village to select gifts for their children. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Hunt said the group is able to buy Christmas toys for 30 cents on the dollar, but school supplies are much more expensive, and pooling resources to do the most good makes more sense.

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Instead of buying low-quality backpack kits, they will hold drives to get donated backpacks that are not only higher quality, but they also won’t be the same one a bunch of other children have. Because, even if it’s been decades since your school days, trust that children are still finding ways to be mean to each other. “It won’t be stigmatizing,” she said of the backpacks.

In this new operation, Hunt said she estimates that all their programs combined will be able to help 150,000 children throughout the metro area each year.

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November 24, 2018

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