CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Cristina Bolling | The Charlotte Observer) - The most poignant moment in Camille Harvell's volunteer shift at the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau came when the 16-year-old turned over a mesh stocking and saw something so simple: a tube of toothpaste.
It happened during an afternoon of sorting stockings and pulling giant bags of toys off trucks at the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau off Arrowood Road. But Harvell, president of the Butler High Black Student Union, was stuck by how basic the needs are for some Charlotte families.
And she had a flashback from her own childhood, hearing the stories of her father who grew up in crushing poverty. (Her father, Kasper Mingo, had his family's childhood featured in this Observer article in 2015.)
"These families are really in need. They need toothpaste," Harvell said. "My dad grew up one of nine children in one house, and their mother died when he was young. He would tell me how much a little thing like a toothbrush would just help him out."
Harvell, a high school junior, and seven other leaders of Butler's Black Student Union made use of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools half day to volunteer at the Salvation Army Christmas program headquarters.
Truckloads of toys from Ally Bank needed to be unloaded, so the young women were put to work piling bags of toys on rolling carts and bringing them in the bureau, where they were registered into a computer and tagged. They tied the tops of hundreds of mesh stockings and wheeled bicycles into tidy rows.
This year, more than 10,700 children will receive gifts, stockings and food through the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer's Empty Stocking Fund. During the month of October, parents of families in financial need came to the Salvation Army Christmas bureau with birth certificates and documentation proving need and applied to have their children's Christmas wish lists written on tags and placed on Angel Trees in area malls and businesses.
Angels not plucked from area trees, those not returned, or ones returned with too few gifts (these number in the thousands most years) get their wishes granted courtesy of the Observer's Empty Stocking Fund.
Starting Dec. 15, parents who registered their children for the program will pick up their toys that they'll place under the tree on Christmas eve.
At the Christmas bureau, members of Butler's Black Student Union say they're a fortunate bunch, with plans for college and beyond. Many have access to cars and could drive themselves to the site.
But they're aware of the reality of poverty in Charlotte, both in their school and across the city.