Thousands of Christmas toys delivered to area children –


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Thousands of Christmas toys delivered to area children

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Volunteers with the Empty Stocking Club organize bags of gifts destined for area children inside the Alliant Energy Center.

Lilly Ott, 9, helps volunteers with the Empty Stocking Club retrieve gifts destined for children in southern Wisconsin at the Alliant Energy Center.

For the State Journal
A lot of people are paring down their Christmas list this year.Not Lynn Wood. She has more than 10,000 children on hers.Wood is executive director of the Empty Stocking Club, the century-old program sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal that makes certain every child in the region receives at least one brand-new, high-quality toy at Christmastime, regardless of their family’s financial situation. The generosity of State Journal readers and others in the community make Empty Stocking possible.Wood spent last week working behind the scenes alongside nearly 300 volunteers to sort and distribute gifts. In a normal year, parents and guardians of children receiving Empty Stocking toys show up in person at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall to select a present for their child, bag it up and take it home. That was not possible this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic so Wood and others devised an elaborate new way to safely distribute toys for 3,400 families across Dane County.Empty Stocking families filled out an application form at home indicating each of their children’s ages, interests and general gift preferences. With printouts of the application forms in hand, volunteers in masks “shopped” for each family in a vast warehouse space in Exhibition Hall that was filled with tables of new toys. The volunteers hand-selected the gift that seemed most aligned with each child’s age and personality, then took it to another volunteer station where the toy was bagged and labeled with the family’s name.The bagged gifts then made their way to a vast Empty Stocking network of community centers, social service agencies, school social workers and other partners who made sure they landed in the hands of the intended family. The effort stretched from unloading trucks filled with toys on Monday to picking up the last few undelivered bags of gifts and cleaning out the hall late Friday afternoon. Just a few hundred toys remain to be connected with their intended families.“I think we did better than expected. There were still glitches,” but overall, the complex pandemic distribution scheme was a success, Wood said Friday as she piled a stack of bright red shopping bags filled with gifts onto a cart for a pick-up.“The biggest thing was putting it together because there were so many different pieces,” she said.Reach Dane, which supports underserved children and families in the community with education and supportive services, was “amazing” because of how many gifts its staff was able to pick up and get into the hands of Empty Stocking families, Wood said. The Empty Stocking Club also arranged for curbside pick-up for some families who aren’t affiliated with an agency, and set up a satellite location on the West Side to serve that area of the city and beyond.None of it could have worked without the efforts of volunteers – many of whom returned again and again during the week to help out – and community support during an exceptional year, Wood said.Along with financial contributions from thousands of individuals, Empty Stocking has received large gifts from UW Provision and Target. The Madison Reading Project supplied a brand new book for every Empty Stocking Club child. And community members are still giving, Wood said.“The generosity has been phenomenal,” she said.How to helpDonations to Empty Stocking Club can be made by credit card at, or mailed using the convenient envelope included in today’s newspaper. The address for Empty Stocking Club donations is: Empty Stocking Club c/o the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8056, Madison, WI 53708. The State Journal publishes the names of Empty Stocking Club donors in the newspaper to thank them for their support.

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