In 1991, former Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson was working as a young DARE officer when he noticed a child who wore the same set of clothes to school every day. Atkinson decided to step in and find a way to provide the child with needed clothing.
This inspired him to start the annual Give A Kid A Christmas fundraiser with the ambitious goal of providing food, clothing, and gifts to 50 area children in need. Almost 30 years later, the fundraiser now serves about 700 children per year.
“Our goal is to serve every kid who has a need. We don’t set a number, we try to find the need and then try to meet it,” Atkinson recently said.
The fundraiser provides a Christmas to children in Surry County who might not otherwise have one. With the help of Walmart and Salvation Army, items are collected and then distributed to those identified as having needs.
At the end of the fundraiser, volunteers traditionally go on a “shopping spree” at Walmart. There, they pick out toys and clothing based on shopping lists specific to each child. In the past, $100-125 has been spent per child. The items are then sent to Salvation Army and then sent to the appropriate children.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s fundraiser will be run a little differently.
“This year, we will change the way distribution is done through Salvation Army. We will still do the shopping trip at Walmart, but at a designated time when the public is not in the store,” said current Sheriff Steve Hiatt.
Theoretically, this late-night shopping spree will lessen the risk of a COVID-19 infection with a fewer amount of customers in the store.
Surry County Schools, who work in partnership with Graham Atkinson’s Foundation, play a large part in the fundraiser’s continued success. Officials there not only identify needy students, but also provide assistance from helpful student volunteers and those willing to donate to the cause.
“Our job is to meet the needs of our students, socially, emotionally, academically, and physically. This is our outreach to meet the needs of the families,” said Surry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves. “This is a great way for our schools to learn about leadership, to exhibit leadership, and to teach students how to give back and make a difference.”
The fundraiser is more important than ever this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a greater amount of children will need assistance and it will also be more difficult to do so.
“We’re going to need the community more than we ever have, and I understand things are going to be difficult this year for many people who contribute. I promise them this — anything you give up to make this program happen is going to turn into food for someone who is hungry, it’s going to turn into clothes for people, for a child who has no gifts for Christmas. It’s not a sheriff’s office event or a school event, it is a countywide event. We’re depending upon those folks to make it happen again this year,” said Atkinson.
While this year might be the most challenging yet, Atkinson expressed confidence that the community would come through in the end. Atkinson, who often cites his Christian faith in explaining how there seems to be just enough every year to meet the needs, told the story of how he actually feared one check he wrote for some toys might bounce — until an unexpected donation came through at the last moment.
It was just like any other year, the annual Give A Kid A Christmas fundraiser had run its course, shopping had been done, and it was time to pay Walmart the appropriate funds.
There was one glaring problem.
The amount of money allocated in the bank for the fundraiser did not match the amount written on the check to Walmart. They were $350 short.
Later that day, Atkinson had an appointment with a civic group from Pilot Mountain, at the end of their meeting he was given a sealed envelope containing a check of an unspecified amount of money. Atkinson, without opening the envelope, took it straight to the Sheriff’s Office and told a coworker to deliver it to the bank as fast as possible.
“How do you know it’s going to cover it?” the coworker said.
“It’ll cover it,” replied Atkinson.
Written for $400, the check was miraculously just enough to cover the amount written to Walmart. The fundraiser enjoyed another successful year.
Another time he credits divine intervention is a year when the fundraiser had one child left to accommodate for but almost no money left in the bank. Atkinson went shopping for the child in Winston-Salem, saying he went there because he would be less likely to be interrupted by people who know him. As he was about to check out, he didn’t know what do to.
There just wasn’t enough money.
“Graham,” came a voice from behind. He turned around and looked to see a woman he hadn’t seen since high school.
Without even mentioning the predicament he was in, the woman offered to pay for the child’s items almost as if it was meant to be.
“I don’t always like his timing, but he never fails to show up. He will this year, too,” Graham said.
For those wishing to donate to the program, checks can be sent to Graham Atkinson Foundation, P.O. Box 827, Dobson, NC 27017. Donations can also be made at paypal.me/giveakidachristmas.