PANAMA CITY — This was not a year where Bay Countians simply met the $170,000 Empty Stocking goal. This was the year where generous givers blew the roof off.
As of December 23 local folks and winter visitors gave $192,092.80 to help the less fortunate have a merry Christmas. They gave it in $1 and $5 and hundreds and even thousands. They gave in honor of loved ones long gone and loved ones still with us. They gave for causes and they gave anonymously. And then, they gave again.
“We live in an incredibly generous community,” said Bill Cramer, the owner of Bill Cramer Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC, Inc.
Each year Cramer gives $5,000 when the Empty Stocking Fund reaches its public goal and this year was no exception. In good times and bad this community always pulls through, Cramer added.
“It’s just a tremendously generous and rewarding experience to be involved in any kind of fundraising activity in this community,” Cramer said.
Money raised through the fund goes to the Salvation Army Panama City Corps, which serves Bay, Gulf, Washington, Holmes, Franklin, Jackson, Calhoun and Liberty counties.
The Salvation Army uses the funds to provide families with presents for children 12 and under and enough food for a Christmas meal. Officials estimated that more families signed up this year than last and that the Salvation Army might spend about $150 on a family of four.
"The more I learn about this community the less surprising it is to see everyone in it rise to a challenge when it comes to helping others," said News Herald publisher Roger Quinn. "Still, it is tremendously gratifying to see the goal hit before Christmas and to see it reached in a way that will continue to touch lives throughout the year."
Salvation Army board treasurer Floyd Skinner said raising money for the fund presented fewer struggles this year thanks in part to help from Allan Bense and others who took the struggles of their neighbors to heart.
“They can see a need is being fulfilled,” Skinner said. “It’s an easy sell. It’s not a tough sell at all.”
News Herald Editor Mike Cazalas agreed.
“Last year at this time we were looking at a sizable shortfall and while I knew we'd somehow reach our goal I wasn't quite sure how. We scrambled and appealed, our readers responded and we hit the goal with an extended deadline,” he said. “This year, by involving the public earlier than usual with the meet-and-greet and emphasizing how much we needed everyone's help, we hit the goal earlier than I remember doing in years.
“But all we did was open the discussion, the people who make this a success each year are the ones who opened their hearts and their wallets and because of that thousands of people enduring hard times will have a better Christmas.”