Neva Anderson sat close to her husband, Daniel, in a pew at First Baptist Church of Augusta, waiting patiently for the start of what she considers a holiday tradition.
For more than 15 years, the Martinez couple has attended the Empty Stocking Fund Benefit Concert presented by The Augusta Chronicle. Anderson said Sunday that she hopes they can continue the tradition for another 15 years.
“It’s just so enjoyable,” Anderson said of the music. “We like the old music, of course, but we love hearing some of the newer stuff as well. We come to every one they put on, and it just gets better and better.”
The Empty Stocking Fund was created by The Chronicle in 1930, and collects money for local families in need during the holiday season. The fund raised $93,269.57 in 2012, helping more than 1,000 families.
Jason Harriman, the Augusta Concert Band conductor for the 22nd annual benefit concert, said it is not uncommon for people to approach him after the concert to express their appreciation.
“It’s nice to be able to do something for the community while we are entertaining the audience,” he said. “It also brings out the Christmas spirit and encourages those to give. A lot of people consider this the start of their Christmas.”
Leafec Harvey sat among the hundreds who filled the church Sunday, thumbing his way through a program while he waited for the concert to start. A singer himself, the Augusta resident said he enjoys the Christmas music.
He said the Empty Stocking Fund also is something he holds close to his heart.
“It means a lot because I know there are a lot of people who are less fortunate,” he said. “Any little bit that you can do helps.”
About 3 p.m., the Augusta Concert Band took the stage, playing modern twists on classic Christmas songs. Patrons tapped their feet to the familiar tunes, and children stood in the pews to conduct the band with pens and pencils.
Less than an hour later, silver collection trays filtered through the crowd, and women rifled through their purses while men plunged deep into their pockets to contribute.
Taya Ingram, of Aiken, said the concert is something she expects to return to year after year.
“It’s beautiful music, and it’s for a great cause,” she said.