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Empty Stocking Fund turns 85

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Pioneer Journal employees Lacey Schik and Bette Johnson stand by boxes of Empty Stocking Christmas gifts.

The Empty Stocking Fund charitable drive is now in its 85th year.

Lacey Schik, an employee at the Wadena Pioneer Journal, is one of the Empty Stocking volunteers putting many hours into the annual Christmas project.

"We provide gifts and a Christmas meal to families who can't necessarily afford it," Schik said.

Schik started at the Pioneer Journal in March 2010, and it is her second time being involved with Empty Stocking.

"I take the nomination forms in and I log them and make the shopping lists," she said. "I help do the shopping and box up what the kids need."

The lists are verified for the correct sizes for the kids as well.

Referrals through churches, schools and human services identify those who may need help this year.

Shopping is a big operation.

"The funniest thing is when you go to check out at Wal-Mart with eight carts and checkout takes over an hour," Schik said.

Privacy and confidentiality are important.

"We try to keep everything anonymous so that volunteers don't know who they're shopping for," Schik said. "Every family is assigned a number and every child within the family is assigned a letter."

The gifts are boxed with the family number, and the families retrieve the boxes after receiving a postcard with their number.

"The shopping is fun but the best part is how rewarding it is," Schik said.

Lisa Schmidt, receptionist at the Pioneer Journal, said that shopping and other tasks of Empty Stocking take a lot of work.

"We have a lot of great volunteers for shopping - and no, they're not all women," Schmidt said.

Schik said that they will hear stories from people who would not have had a Christmas without the program.

Often, a year later, they are out of the difficult circumstances and want to donate back into the program.

"We had one family that was on the list [for help] in 2009, and then in 2010 they came back in and their children donated money to Empty Stocking," Schik said. "Another one is people who received gifts last year, this year they wanted to supply gifts for a family."

One woman had been collecting loose coins through the course of the year and then brought them in to donate to Empty Stocking.

Another family, in lieu of buying gifts for their own family members, purchased gifts for Empty Stocking.

"They brought in bags upon bags of toys and clothing," she said.

Empty Stocking began in 1926 and has weathered the recessions like the people it serves - those who would find themselves having to choose between paying their bills and paying for a family Christmas.

Schik said that the economy seems to be getting a little better in this area.

"We have people who have received it in the past but are turning it down this year," Schik said.

She said it was fun to meet people in the community and see how generous people are.