Empty Stocking donations stay local

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Since 1984, the Empty Stocking Fund has helped people in need throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties.

By Sharon Dooley | Daily News Contributing Writer

Since 1984, the Empty Stocking Fund has helped people in need throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties.

For most of those years, the Salvation Army of Okaloosa and Walton counties has served as the dispersing center of the Empty Stocking Fund, a community-driven outreach supported by residents of the two counties.

“It’s an honor for us to be chosen as the agency,” Salvation Army Lt. Monica Rojas said.

She and her husband, Lt. Camilo Rojas, are the administrators and ministers of the corps office on Mary Esther Boulevard. The Salvation Army is a worldwide, Christian-based church that began as a direct means to help the poor and suffering during the early Industrial Revolution in 1865, London, England.

“We know we have a great responsibility to do a good job, and we ask God to give us the wisdom that we use the money wisely,” Camilo Rojas said.

People who benefit from the Empty Stocking Fund undergo a vetting process. They must demonstrate a financial need or hardship, and must provide proof of some type of income in order to receive assistance.

In most instances, the help is provided once in a lifetime. For those who seek assistance a second time, the corps directors ask their clients to participate in a budgeting and basic money management class.

Once a month, a volunteer from the BBAV bank branch in Cinco Bayou offers training to help Salvation Army clients better understand how to meet financial obligations.

“They teach them how to create a budget, and some of (the clients) have never heard of that, of making a budget,” Camilo Rojas said.

The vetting process and budgeting classes are necessary. “We don’t have unlimited resources, and a lot of people want to take advantage of the system,” he said.

“We try to help those who really need the help,” Monica Rojas said.

The Northwest Florida Daily News initiated the Empty Stocking Fund through the suggestions and efforts of retired newsroom secretary Dorothy Mullin. Donations remain in Okaloosa and Walton counties to help local people. None of the Empty Stocking Fund goes to the day-to-day operations of the Salvation Army.

This year’s goal is $100,000.

Empty Stocking Fund donations can be taken to the Northwest Florida Daily News on the corner of Eglin Parkway and Hollywood Boulevard or can be mailed to NWF Daily News, P.O. Box 2949, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549. Checks should be payable to Empty Stocking Fund/NWF Daily News.

Donations may also be made by visiting www.salvationarmyflorida.org/fortwalton/empty-stocking-fund.

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