Empty Table Fund exceeds goal for 2022

Kelley Peters, News Editor

The Empty Table Fund, run by the TimesDaily, surpassed its goal amount the day after it officially closed for the year. 

The TimesDaily started the Empty Table Fund 48 years ago as a charitable public act. It was designed to help not only the Salvation Army, but also other civic organizations like the Lions Club. Originally, it was called the Empty Basket Fund, and the TimesDaily would collect money and food items to go into food baskets to be distributed. Now, the donations are primarily monetary. 

“Through the years it has morphed,” said TimesDaily writer Lisa Singleton-Rickman. “Now it is a public solicitation, where we’re asking for money. The money comes here, and we turn over all the proceeds directly to the Salvation Army. We have sort of narrowed our focus through these many years to just the Salvation Army, who actually works with the Lions Club and has for many years to provide the food component of what we do.”

Singleton-Rickman, who has been in charge of the fund for over thirty years, coordinates the fund’s launch date with the kickoff of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree and the Red Kettle Campaign. From there, the TimesDaily runs stories about the fund until its completion, prompting the public to donate. It stays open for around two months, usually from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to mid-January. 

Donations to the Empty Table Fund are entirely community-based, and Singleton-Rickman feels that there is no community quite like the Shoals when it comes to having a giving spirit.

“The community is amazing,” said Singleton-Rickman. This community is the most giving community. I know that because every Salvation Army Captain I have ever worked with – and there have been probably ten in my years here, or maybe more – has said the same thing: no community they’ve ever been in out-gives the Shoals. These people in the Shoals are amazing. They see a need, and they meet a need. That seems to be the philosophy of the vast majority of the people. People really believe in this fund, and they believe in the Salvation Army. I feel like that drives them to give money to this. I really don’t know of another fund in this area that has gone this long and raised this much money, and does it year in and year out, regardless of the economics of the day, regardless of what’s going on in the news, regardless of what’s happening among nonprofits. People still give. It’s amazing.” 

Salvation Army Captain Richard Watts feels that the community gives because of the close bonds between community members and their desire to see others improve.

“Times are hard,” said Watts. “Things are more expensive, so you would think that people would want to be a bit more conservative with their money, but what I have seen is quite the opposite. People recognize, ‘If it’s tough for me, how much harder is it for someone that is not as well-off as I am right now? Is it perfect? No, but it is better than what a lot of other people have.’ There has been this tremendous outpouring of generosity, which is really what community is about. It’s not about helping a stranger or a homeless person. It’s about helping your neighbor. This is a tremendous compliment to our community, that we see this wonderfully generous attitude.” 

The community’s love for giving is what helped the Empty Table Fund meet and exceed its goal the day after it officially closed, bringing the total to $50,008. After announcing that the goal went unmet by a little over $1,300, a last-minute donation brought the fund over its $50,000 goal. 

Singleton-Rickman maintains that the Salvation Army uses the money for the good of the community, and through the course of her career, she has seen these life-changing donations in action. 

“The gratitude of people for what the Salvation Army has done for them has been amazing,” said Singleton-Rickman. “I have written countless stories with people who have given testimony after testimony as to how the Salvation Army helped them through their Christmas assistance programs like the Angel Tree. At one time, many of the proceeds from the Empty Table Fund went to fill angels that were unadopted. They went to fill those orders for children whose names were not taken off the tree. Now, the community has really rallied so much, even in the past decade, behind the Angel Tree so much that all of the names are taken, so the money that the TimesDaily collects through the Empty Table Fund is used for food for the shelter residents and for rent or utility assistance for people who can’t make ends meet during winter months. They are able to branch out on how they use that money. They’re very accountable for that money. They always let me know how that money is being used, and since we do raise the money through this public solicitation, they are very accountable to the public.” 

Watts hopes to use the money not only to fix current worries in people’s lives, but also to address the root of the issues occurring so that they can ultimately be resolved. He expresses gratitude to everyone who donated, because the money will be used to change lives. 

“It’s never about the money,” said Watts. “It’s about the people we get to help.”