There’s more than one story about how stockings came to be part of our Christmas celebrations.
One includes St. Nicholas hiding gold coins in a farmer’s stockings so his daughters could get married. Another has children filling their boots with straw and carrots hoping to see Odin’s flying horse.
But for at least 20 years, The Shepherd’s Staff in Westminster has been helping local families make stockings a part of their children’s celebrations. This year the nonprofit will distribute more than 800 stockings in addition to toys, backpacks, hats and gloves to the families it serves.
Thursday was the first night for distribution, celebrated with an event called the Evening by the Fire.
Folks lined up in front of the light-draped porch of The Shepherd’s Staff house before making their way through to pick out items.
On the other side of the house, Executive Director Brenda Meadows was manning a table with hot chocolate next to the fire pit where her husband toasted marshmallows for s’mores.
She hoped the event would make a difference for families who might have to choose between Christmas stockings and necessities.
“Obviously it’s an easy choice to make because you’ve got to eat or get medicine, but [children] have friends who are talking about all of this cool stuff they got … Hopefully [the program] is making it a little easier on the kids. That’s the aim, that the kids aren’t carrying such a heavy burden,” she said.
In a news release, the organization shared a quote from Meadows: “We couldn’t have this event or our Christmas stockings distribution without the help of the entire community. During the last few weeks, businesses, organizations and individuals have donated and we expect to distribute over 800 Christmas stockings this year.”
Meadows predicted that they would give out almost 400 Thursday night alone.
For senior citizens, there were also gift bags called “Sacks for Seniors,” filled with personal and holiday items.
As parents, grandparents, guardians and others moved through the yellow house on Carroll Street, they started in the front room, where toys were organized by age group and included dolls, cars, sets of building blocks, kits for crafts and science experiments.
Some brought their kids along so they could choose their own gift. Others came alone to pick out a gift that would be a surprise for Christmas morning.
Near the hallway, volunteers had arranged new books and, right before guests left the house after picking up their stockings, there were additional items like backpacks, gloves and fuzzy blankets.
Meadows said it was nice that the stockings came in plain bags so parents and guardians could take them home without kids being any the wiser.
“I love that because it’s not like it’s coming from someone else,” she said.
Volunteer Lynn Eisman was working the Christmas event for the first time, though she has volunteered with The Shepherd’s Staff for three years. Dressed in a festive red shirt, she spent the evening sorting tags and helping guests find age-appropriate toys.
She watched many kids get excited when they found a toy they really liked. One mom came into the room and happily exclaimed, “My daughter’s been asking for that,” when she saw one of the toys, Eisman said.
Heather Parham, of Westminster, was picking out items for five boys. As she chatted with staff members, she found a set of two sippy cups that would be great for her twins.
“It’s great,” she said of the event. “There’s a nice variety of things.”
Cynthia Shamer and her family stopped for s’mores near the outdoor fire pit. Her daughter was excited to find a slime toy, she said, and had already opened the box that night.
More hours for recipients to pick up stockings include 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and Monday, Dec. 17; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18; and noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20.