University of South Carolina freshman Natalie Mullen stuffed Christmas stockings on Monday with Hot Wheels, Little People, Play-Doh and Dum Dums for the Carolina Service Council’s annual stocking drive, Carolina Cares.

Mullen said she first got involved to fulfill service hours for her sorority, Phi Mu. She realized filling stockings for children was as rewarding for her as it will be for the children who will receive the stockings through the Salvation Army.

“I hope the kids will be happy with the gifts,” Mullen said.

The drive started 51 years ago as a community toy drive and has since evolved to what it is today, a stocking drive that raises money and collects toys, candy and letters for children of the Midlands. The drive provides stockings out for anyone to fill and, once the stocking is filled, it’s returned to the council to be handed out to children after the drive ends.

“You can check out a stocking and you can go get the toys yourself. You can choose whatever age you want. We have girls and boys, we have infants, we have (ages) 3 to 6 and 7 to 12,” said Kaya Soyas, a freshman biology major. “If you can’t go out, you can give us the money and we’ll buy the toys for you.”

Soyas said the stockings go to children whose parents don’t have the money to give them a traditional Christmas.

Christina Lin, a freshman pharmacy major, said she did a similar toy drive in high school. When Lin came to UofSC and heard about Carolina Cares, she got involved to continue helping those who are less fortunate.

“I really want to give back, especially during the holiday season,” Lin said. “When I was little, I had gifts. Being able to give back to kids that are not able to get gifts really makes me feel satisfied.”

Not only does the drive supply stockings to children in need, but it raises money to buy Christmas cards for veterans.

“If they’re not going to be home with their families, we send [cards] out saying we’re thanking you and thinking about you over the holidays,” Soyas said.

Last year, Carolina Cares filled over 200 stockings. Soyas said they want to fill even more this year.

Senior hospitality major Bella Whit said she got stockings to fill for service hours.

“Filling stockings made me realize what my siblings and I have,” Whit said. “Kids don’t always get the same things and I think this is a great cause to volunteer for.”

Whit isn’t the only one who said the stocking drive made her see how fortunate she is.

“It made me realize not to take things for granted,” Lin said. “There are definitely kids out there that aren’t getting much for Christmas and it made me cherish the things I have.”

Carolina Cares, hosted by the Carolina Service Council, is an annual stocking drive for children in the Midlands. The drive, sponsored by the Salvation Army, also raises money to buy Christmas cards to mail to veterans.

Carolina Cares gives stockings out to anyone wanting to give children Christmas presents. Givers have the choice of filling the stockings for boys or girls ages 1 to 2, 3 to 6 or 7 to 12.

Natalie Mullen, a freshman business student at UofSC, filled stockings with toys for boys ages 3 to 6. Mullen said she’s involved with Carolina Cares to help people in need and make kids happy.