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Hess happily returns the favor
Christmas Stocking Project has been making the holidays ‘merrier’ around Monroe for over 75 years
Mary Flynn, left, daughter of Christmas Stocking founder Katheryn Etter, packs candy for senior cheer boxes in 2019 along with Monda Hess, right. Times file photo

The Christmas Stocking Fund is an annual effort of the Monroe Woman’s Club. To donate to the Christmas Stocking Fund, send contributions to 901 16th Ave., Monroe, WI 53566, or go online to and follow the donation link. All contributions are used locally to fund the program.

MONROE — Monda Hess and her twin sister were the youngest of nine children. She’s spent her entire life calling Monroe her hometown and is continually proud to be a part of it.

That pride extends back 55 years to 1968, when she and her siblings were recipients of the Christmas Stocking project, started by Katheryn Etter and the Monroe Woman’s Club in 1947. The project helps bring some Christmas cheer to those who are underprivileged, under-served or now spend their holidays alone without close friends or families nearby.

“The Christmas Stocking program means a lot to me. It’s wonderful they help children in need. They helped us,” Hess said. “We have such a great community.”

Etter was a school nurse at the time and saw there was a need to help some area families around the holidays. She was also a member of the Monroe Woman’s Club and approached other members about the situation, which was originally dubbed as the Department of Public Welfare. The project’s name was changed in 1951 to the Monroe Woman’s Club Christmas Stocking Project. The original idea of the Christmas Stocking project was to help gift toys for children, and maybe coats, mittens and food during the holidays in an effort to make Christmas a little “merrier” for the children.

Hess was so thankful to the organization for brightening her holidays as a child that she ultimately joined the volunteer effort. She has now dedicated some 39 years of her life to the project.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Hess said.

Etter was a family friend, Hess said. In her nearly four decades of service, she said she’s volunteered and served practically every role in the organization as possible, from purchasing to packing to ultimately delivering the care boxes. During many of those years, she worked directly under Etter and “learned the aspects of all the roles from her.” After Etter died in 2011, Hess ultimately took over Etter’s role directing the Cheese Boxes. The transition was made easier by the vast number of dedicated volunteers already in place.

“I have a great group at the Monroe Woman’s Club that also help me, as well as other people and family. There are many, many people that help,” Hess said. “When you think back, we’ve had volunteers here longer than I have been helping, like Carla Hartwig. In the 1950s and 60s, she was packing cookies in her home. She still helps to this day — she’s a trooper.”

Over the years, some of those that help has included Girl Scouts, 4-H, youth volunteers from the YMCA and Rainbow, as well as Monroe High School students. When she was younger, Hess said her older brother made her and her twin sister a piece of furniture for their toys.

“I have so many great memories. We received Christmas ornaments, and I still have some to this day,” Hess said.

The high school still helps out, with Kim Markham coordinating the efforts of various MHS organizations, like National Honor Society (NHS), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Junior Optimists, to name a few.

“It’s a real team effort. Everyone works as a team. Monroe always comes together,” Hess said.

This year, Hess said, Cheer Boxes will be delivered to 408 elderly recipients that are alone at Christmas with no family around. There will be plenty of other Care Packages that include items like shampoo, grip socks and lotion, all being delivered to are nursing homes.

“It takes many hours to coordinate,” Hess said.