First time attenders of the annual Empty Stocking Talent program, Laurie Anne and Elisa Mae Runge were just two of many captivated by the talent of the area at the 93rd annual event Wednesday, Dec. 11.

While watching, Elisa Mae, a WDC elementary student, shared that perhaps this time next year she'd be up front performing. But this year, she was content watching as over 30 acts performed songs or stories of the season.

Elisa Mae watches the performance with Laurie Anne Runge.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Elisa Mae watches the performance with Laurie Anne Runge. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

One of those taking part in the performance was Wadena Area Community Band director Steven Anderson. Anderson is a former band instructor of 27 years at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and has been directing the local band for six years. Anderson said while he's not been with the group all along, he knows this has been an important part of their performances since the beginning.

Steven Anderson directs the Wadena Area Community Band during the Empty Stocking program.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Steven Anderson directs the Wadena Area Community Band during the Empty Stocking program. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

"We're given a lot of support," Anderson said. "This is one way we can give back."

The community gave back in a big way during the event with $16,042 in pledges coming in according to Empty Stocking Fund general chair Kelly Wong.

"It went fantastic," Wong said of the outpouring. By Friday that number was at $16,448 and more pledges were still to come. "We're very excited and very thankful to the community."

Along with money that people gave, hats, mittens and quilts were also donated in abundance. Wong said there were enough quilts donated to make sure all families will have one to curl up in over the frigid winter season. That's no small feat of the community's quilters as there are 205 families with 510 children benefiting from this year's donations.

Diane Peters, Empty Stocking Fund Talent Chair, snaps photos of the performers Wednesday, Dec. 11, during the 93rd annual event.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Diane Peters, Empty Stocking Fund Talent Chair, snaps photos of the performers Wednesday, Dec. 11, during the 93rd annual event. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

A momentary glitch during the night included the main phone number to the talent show not working, which was soon resolved. The night went on with a continuous flow of talent coordinated by Diane Peters, who said she's been involved in the talent program since 1979. It was all broadcast live on Wadena's KWAD with radio announcers Kyle Gylsen and Brad Williams keeping listeners updated on the progress.

KWAD radio guys Brad Williams (left) and Kyle Gylsen keep the listeners up-to-date on the latest funds raised throughout the three-hour program.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
KWAD radio guys Brad Williams (left) and Kyle Gylsen keep the listeners up-to-date on the latest funds raised throughout the three-hour program. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Wong said the Empty Stocking volunteers will be hard at work packing donations again on Monday, Dec. 16, just days before those packages will be distributed. Wong added that the group continues to get emergency referrals, which they are working to fill.

The volunteers of the program that put in many hours and the generous donors can feel good knowing that so many families will have reason to rejoice this Christmas season. Each family that's been referred receives packages including a ham dinner, clothing, a quilt, toys and a family game. All this is meant to help bring the family together to hopefully have a more blessed time.

Wong said local businesses are also to be praised for their support of the program as they give so much whether through donations, discounts, or time and energy.

There are still ways to help. If you have time to help package on Monday, Dec. 16, the group will be working starting at 3 p.m. until they are done in the lower level of the Jefferson Square Building in Wadena. You can also still help with donations of new toys for toddlers to 7-year-old children. Donations of toys and clothing must be new, not used.