'You only have one': NWFL women show single moms they matter with Christmas stocking drives

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News
Niceville resident Kathy Inness started a Niceville division of the Christmas stocking drive for single mothers.

Kathy Inness was reading the Northwest Florida Daily News in December 2020 when she stumbled across an article that spoke to her, “Single mom turns pain into joy with stockings.”

The Niceville resident saw how Melody Parkhurst, a former Fort Walton Beach resident, was collecting items through an Amazon wish list to put together holiday stockings for single mothers who likely wouldn’t receive one. As a former single mother of three, it was a feeling with which she felt familiar.

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“Back then, there wasn't really any leftover funds for that,” Inness said. “That’s why I wanted to get involved, because I would rather do for my kids back then than for myself. I think sometimes it did make my kids feel funny that their mom didn't get anything from Santa. So just knowing that somebody cares enough to do this for you, I think, is a big impact for the single mom.”

Inness contacted Parkhurst a couple months ago to start a Niceville stocking drive. She will distribute stockings to CALM House (Crisis Aid for Littles and Moms) and Celebrate Recovery program in Niceville.

Destin resident Amanda Lee also runs a Northwest Florida stocking drive, which she distributes to Destin United Methodist Church and Shelter House in Fort Walton Beach.

Parkhurst, who grew up in Fort Walton Beach, now delivers to churches in Gilmer and Gwinnett counties in Georgia. She hopes more people will hear her story and start their own stocking drives in Northwest Florida and beyond.

“It would be so amazing to see this be something that moms from Fort Walton Beach did for other moms no matter where they were, because you don't have to buy something off our Amazon wish list and contribute that way," Parkhurst said. "You could just make a stocking for your neighbor that you see is a mom that’s worried, she's hurried. She's trying to make Christmas happen and she just doesn't necessarily feel that she's seen.”

Parkhurst also thinks this can benefit mothers who aren’t in poverty.

Former Fort Walton Beach resident Melody Parkhurst (center) started a Christmas stocking drive for single mothers in 2020 with the help of her children: Carter, 8, and Madison, 10.

It's also (for) the mom that might not ever ask for help, that has a good job, that's hard-working and is getting by and is doing great things for her kids,” she said. “There's something special about having that commitment to your family be recognized and having somebody say, ‘I see you and you matter, and just remember when you open this, that you're cherished.' ”

The stocking mission is a personal one to Parkhurst.

The first year she celebrated Christmas with her children after her divorce, her stocking was empty. The children cried and wondered why Santa had forgotten their mother.

The next year, Parkhurst gave her children money to pick items to stuff her stocking. They weren’t appeased, still confused about why Santa wasn’t up for the task.

Madison Parkhurst, 10, marks a box filled with completed Christmas stockings to deliver to single mothers in Georgia.

The third year, Parkhurst filled her own stocking. Her children were relieved, but she wasn’t.

“I cried myself to sleep, feeling very lonely,” Parkhurst said. “The holidays can be a really lonely time, anyway. And then you tack on buying yourself things for your own stocking when you really want all your money to go toward either charities, your kids, your holiday table. It's very hard to spend money on yourself at Christmas.”

Parkhurst took action, announcing a stocking drive via Facebook post on Nov. 11, 2020. Her friends not only contributed to the Amazon wish list she made, but also shared the post.

Destin resident Amanda Lee assembles Christmas stockings to distribute to single mothers in the area.

One of the friends who responded was Amanda Lee, Parkhurst’s best friend at Meigs Middle School in Shalimar. Together, they were able to provide more than 150 stockings to single mothers. More than 50 of those were in Destin.

“I have a lot of friends that are single moms, and my mom was also a single mom for a little bit when I was younger, so I just thought was a great cause, and I love the way that (Parkhurst) presented it,” Lee said. “It was very heartfelt and touching the way she related, and she just put it out there and was real about it.”

“The response really was overwhelming, and what was cool for us is how it really transformed all that pain,” Parkhurst said. “That’s the coolest thing I think that God can do with your experiences. And now, last year and this year, stockings are literally our greatest joy.”

In all of the stockings are staple items such as lotion, bath bombs, fuzzy socks, candles and lip gloss. Each also has one special item such as a bracelet, gloves or hat.

Parkhurst’s favorite item this year is a dish towel that says, “Home is where your mom is.”

“I love that, having had to move around a bunch after my divorce and having it take awhile for us to really feel like we had a home,” Parkhurst said.

Carter Parkhurst organizes stocking stuffers after volunteering to help with his mother Melody Parkhurst's Christmas stocking drive for single mothers in Gilmer and Gwinnett counties in Georgia.

The main difference this year is that Parkhurst will place the stockings inside a brown bag, so the children won’t see what is inside. The other difference she is excited about is that her 8-year old son, Carter, specifically asked if he could get involved alongside his older sister Madison, who is 10.

“He told me that when he's grown up and he gets married, he wants to make sure that his family does the same thing when they're grownups,” Parkhurst said. ”We put on Christmas music, the kids lay everything out nicely for a picture that we can share with a thank-you on Facebook, and then we pray together over everything that we received for the moms. ... It’s a family process.”

When asked why Carter wanted to help, he said he wanted to help mothers all over the world, and …

Former Fort Walton Beach resident Melody Parkhurst started a Christmas stocking drive for single mothers that has expanded from her new home in Georgia to Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Niceville.

“You only have one,” Carter said.

Delivering them feels amazing, Parkhurst said.

“One mom told me it was the most meaningful thing she received that year and that it would carry her forward. And then other moms, it was just more what you saw in their eyes when they were receiving it.”

To donate to the Niceville stocking drive, visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/8D33NLAV9VPM?ref_=wl_share&fbclid=IwAR3V90wqzL8pt-bVWLWSy3NxXqedamIlJjHRO8JGGmHbKI9D49MqlN9HiM0.

To donate to the Destin stocking drive, visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1G0DNYXIGI4BY?fbclid=IwAR1_8v-PU4VuWkS_ffj8m6YPx9bp37vtbFlvCd3chX5umPnaGNSHdyUkiAs. Items from the Amazon wishlist may also be dropped off at David Scott Lee Buick GMC in Crestview.

To donate to the Georgia stocking drive, visit https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2VKML0HM0AW9W?ref=cm_sw_sm_r_un_un_yNVxR4RDvXzQK&fbclid=IwAR3Pn-yHhELuhNfagHHX50zopzcs57kvnKyyoxXl0i9Ct8YmzzoqGp2IkeI.