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ESF volunteer finds work rewarding

Photo by Rachelle Klemme "Hero up!" says a backpack handled by Empty Stocking volunteer Carol Aspengren.

The decades-long tradition of the Empty Stocking Fund provides gifts to hundreds of children, and it takes more than Santa and a handful of reindeer. Many area volunteers make it happen, and Carol Aspengren of Wadena has made the project a tradition for the last few years.

Aspengren, who moved to Wadena with her husband when they retired five years ago, helps with shopping.

While some volunteers go to local merchants to find the best deals with available funding, Aspengren shops in the Pioneer Journal store room to match needs with the existing inventory when possible.

Aspengren has worked in different aspects of shopping in previous years. Last time, she helped to organize the storage room.

"This year ... I'm finding out how it all works; everything from putting boxes together to shopping. The generosity of everybody is great, so we have a big supply," she said.

Volunteers frequently cross paths with each other. Aspengren has met new people along with people she already knows.

Aspengren said that aside from people helping in Wadena, volunteers from surrounding towns coordinate distribution of gifts to families in the vicinity and make the wide range of the project possible.

"It's been fun to be shopping right here in the back of the Pioneer Journal. And the coordination it takes to fill in what we don't have is where the extra volunteers really come in handy to go shopping and find things," she said.

She said that while it was unfortunate that financial needs exist in the community, it is good to be part of the process of helping to alleviate them during Christmastime.

"We see a lot of smiles and a lot of tears back here too when they're picking up the boxes," Pioneer Journal editor Steve Schulz said.

Aspengren is involved in other community activities as well.

"I'm involved with the Madhatters and the Historical Society, and there's always things to volunteer there for too. Makes life in Wadena pretty busy," Aspengren said.

The Aspengrens are originally from Eagle Bend, which is not far away from their adopted community.

"We have family here. Grandkids are a little far away, but they're busy too, so we make our own life here. There's always plenty to do," Aspengren said. "I found out in the five years that you can be as busy as you want to be."

Aspengren's favorite part of volunteering is finishing a box and imagining the child receiving the gifts.

"I think it's the grandma in me. I just want to be there when they open it. I wish I could see them," she said.