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Ruritans expand holiday program

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- The Shenandoah County Ruritans are stretching their Empty Stocking even further this Christmas.

The nine clubs have increased their Empty Stocking Fund goal to $28,000 -- enough to buy presents for 550 county children, said John Gaunt, the treasurer of the Fort Valley Ruritan Club.

Last year, the club had a goal of $25,000, but ended up bringing in $32,000. It also had increased the number of children getting presents to 500, up from 450 in 2009, Gaunt said.

"We had a very successful year last year," he said Sunday. "We exceeded our goal by quite a bit. It was remarkable in terms of generosity of the local community. We just couldn't believe it. We were so grateful that the county had responded that well with such an amazing response, so we upped the goal this year by another 50 children."

Local churches and a gifted and talented class at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School have been particularly generous, Gaunt said. He said the program has been around more than 25 years.

Children in need are selected by the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services. They are 12 and under.

"I must admit, over the years what you can see is you see a fairly heavy movement toward real needs like clothes," Gaunt said. "In all honesty, you don't see many extravagant things. We basically do try to make sure we have a nice balance between the real needs that exist ... and then we make sure there are definitely toys in there."

The Ruritans need to have all the shopping done by Nov. 28, and the gifts will be given to parents and guardians Dec. 5 at the Woodstock Armory, Gaunt said.

"We're well into the buying mode," he said. "The whole theme is it's a time of year that we should be looking out for others. This county's still suffering. It truly is a place where we have less fortunate people."

Donations can be sent to Ruritan Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 411, Strasburg, VA 22657.

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