FORT WALTON BEACH — Most people at some point in time need a second chance.
Amanda Rigdon needed one when she turned to the Salvation Army for assistance earlier this year. It was the second time they’d helped her.
"Back in 2013, my fiancé passed away," Rigdon said. "He was the sole provider. I was taking care of our baby."
With his death, Rigdon struggled to pay bills. The Salvation Army kept her utilities on because of the Empty Stocking Fund.
The Empty Stocking Fund is a local assistance program facilitated by the Northwest Florida Daily News and administered by the Salvation Army of Fort Walton Beach. The fund is built upon donations provided by people within Northwest Florida.
The goal for the 2019 Empty Stocking Fund is $150,000.
Rigdon’s second chance came earlier this year, when again she faced a utility bill that she could not pay.
As a single mother of two, combined with relocating her father to the area, Rigdon had stretched her food industry income to the breaking point. Her father, living on his fixed income, suggested she again turn to the Salvation Army.
With the second chance comes a condition: Recipients must participate in the Salvation Army’s financial budgeting course, taught once a month by a BBVA bank employee.
"After the class, it made me stop and realize that I need to cut back," Rigdon said. "It made me aware of what I have to change. It made me stop and think about acting on impulse. Through the process of budgeting, I was able to get a new car."
Rigdon recently relocated from Fort Walton Beach, and she now resides in Ponce de Leon, near DeFuniak Springs.
The fund was started in 1984 by Dorothy Mullin, who was new to the area and new to her position as secretary of the Northwest Florida Daily News.
Thirty-five years later, Mullin is retired, but the Empty Stocking Fund continues to keep the electricity on for the elderly during the summer months of Northwest Florida. The local dollars keep the water flowing for young mothers, cover prescription costs for fixed-income seniors, and helps those who otherwise could feel hopeless when faced with financial distress.
Every donation to the Empty Stocking Fund remains local, with no funds going outside Northwest Florida.
Salvation Army Corps officers Lt. Camilo Rojas and Lt. Monica Rojas administer the Empty Stocking Fund.
"All the money that we collect from the campaign is to provide financial security," Camilo Rojas said. "We do this with love."
For Rigdon, both the Empty Stocking Fund and the Salvation Army staff changed her life.
"They have a mission to help people," she said. "It’s amazing. They’re a lifeline.
"They don’t discriminate, no matter your color, your race, your beliefs," Rigdon added. "We need more people like that."