Don Crawford, executive director, Empty Stocking Fund - December 2009 - Best of Atlanta - Atlanta Magazine
 

Don Crawford, executive director, Empty Stocking Fund

12/1/2009

Adults know they’re responsible for their own stockings come Christmas, but for thousands of Atlanta children, the magic of the holidays rests solely on the shoulders of one man: Don Crawford. In the thirteen seasons he’s been executive director of the Empty Stocking Fund, Crawford has helped bring presents to as many children (around 500,000) as the Fund served in the seventy years before he took over. That equals about 1 million happy kids since 1927.

Crawford, his pointed ears nestled next to a receding salt-and-pepper pate, looks more like one of the Big Guy’s elves than the red-suited man himself, but he’s just as jolly, his brown eyes crinkling as he laughs. “I’m in the service of making people happy,” he says. “But we don’t really know because we’re not there on Christmas morning. If things happen the way they should, the children would never know that we were involved.”

It’s October now, and thick columns bearing the heft of City Hall East above are already wrapped like red and green candy canes in “Santa’s Village,” the basement warehouse where the Empty Stocking Fund operates. The space is empty, but soon tractor-trailers bearing the fruits of Crawford’s year-round labor—negotiating bids with toy vendors, picking out gifts for each gender and age group, canvassing corporations for sponsorships—will arrive. The space will become a labyrinthine “cavern of cardboard,” filled with footballs and basketballs, MP3 players and watches. Crawford makes sure there are enough toys that moms and dads can select from a few options when gathering their child’s goodies. “We don’t want it to feel like a soup line,” he says, “where someone comes in the door and someone hands them something and sends them back out the other side.”

Since taking over in 1997, Crawford has expanded the number of families served by using Medicaid as the qualifier. “Even in good times there are still quite a lot of families living with fairly low incomes, and Medicaid’s on a sliding scale based on the federal poverty level,” he says. He’s also doubled the amount spent on the toys. “The quality of the gifts was a little shaky for a while. When I took over, I made it my priority to make these gifts the kind I would have for my own children.”

Soon someone may have the chance to play Santa to Crawford. The Empty Stocking Fund will be homeless after this season; City Hall East is being sold, and Crawford is already hunting for another spacious, MARTA-friendly spot for next year’s workshop. —Amanda Heckert

Photograph by Joe Martinez