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Volunteers make Christmas Stocking Project shine
Lifelong friendships, rewarding memories created
Christmas Stocking Project Doug Sabatke 1
Teri and Carla Hartwig pack cheer boxes at the Behring Senior Center in Monroe. - Photo for the Times: Doug Sabatke

MONROE — While many volunteer their time during the holidays, one Monroe mother/daughter duo has more than half a century of experience. Carla Hartwig began volunteering with the Monroe Woman’s Club in 1961, raising her children to give back to the community. 

In those early years, said daughter Teri Hartwig, the cookie donations came to the Hartwig household. 

“The cookies were laid out on our dining room table and, as soon as we were old enough not to break the cookies, we would walk around the table packing the cookie tins,” said Teri. “It was such a treat to see all the different types of cookies the community baked for the holidays. We were also instilled with this rule: no sampling the cookies or Santa wouldn’t come.”

Though she spent more than 40 years living in cities around the country, Teri eventually returned to Monroe, picking up where she left off with giving back to the community. Teri now helps pack Cheer Boxes for the project.

“Monroe is a great community with many caring people, so whether it’s supporting the dog park or bidding during the silent holiday auction at MAC, it’s important to support community efforts,” she said.

Volunteering has also brought Teri lifelong friendships.

“During the mid-1970s, the cookie tins became such a large project that I enlisted friends to help to fill the tins,” said Teri. “We are still friends almost 50 years later and were recently on a Zoom call when one of them brought up … filling cookie tins as one of their favorite holiday memories.”

Her favorite part of volunteering, though, is creating memories with her mom, Carla. Carla was a Girl Scout Cookie Coordinator in the 1960s and joined the Monroe Woman’s Club in 1961. She began baking cookies for the Christmas Stocking project in 1958 and continued the tradition for almost 60 years.

“I delivered my first ones to Belva Zwygart’s home safely packed in a shoe box,” said Carla. Carla later took on the role of Cookie Chairman for several years, in addition to helping pack food boxes. 

She even remembers providing storage for jelly donations one year. “All the jelly was stored in our basement,” said Carla. “One year, when it was to be delivered, there was a big ice storm the night before and all the jelly needed to be moved from the basement and carried in and out of Dearth Motors without dropping the jelly or falling yourself.”

Both mother and daughter say that volunteering with the project over the years has been rewarding, one of the reasons why they continue to participate.

“The most important thing throughout the years was knowing that your efforts were helping people in the community,” said Carla.

Louis and Gloria Scherer first heard about the Christmas Stocking project in a radio ad asking for volunteers to help fill food boxes. When they first volunteered, the boxes were being prepared on the floor. Louis offered tables to prevent volunteers from having to bend while filling the boxes. The tables were picked up and delivered the next day with help from Dan Holmes and the Key Club. Gloria fondly remembers those experiences and the new friends she made while volunteering.

Though the couple had to step back from volunteering at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scherers say they miss helping the Monroe Woman’s Club with this project.

“[We enjoyed] the joy of helping people and seeing the youth of our community getting involved,” they said.

Sue Barrett became involved with the Christmas Stocking project in the 1980s, when she and her mom owned a fabric store called Calico and Lace. As a Monroe business owner, Sue decided to join the project in 1986 and give back to the community.

“I really love that the focus is for the children, providing them with clothes, toys and food for the holidays,” she said. 

She has volunteered in a variety of roles over the years including helping with the cookie packing, shopping for children’s clothes and toys, working with local businesses on their toy drives and setting up the “shoppers” room with donated toys at the Behring Senior Center. She has also helped with the food boxes, which are prepared and filled at Dearth Motors before being delivered to recipients.

Barrett served as publicity chairman for the project from 2000 to 2015, when the position was passed on to Sue Armstrong and Cindy Ditter. The position involved working with local news outlets and businesses to spread awareness about the project’s mission.

“It is humbling and rewarding to be part of such a big project but it really helps you focus on what’s important and knowing how truly lucky we are to live in this caring, generous community,” she said.

Volunteers have come from all walks of life. Barrett fondly remembers being joined by high school students and multi-generation families — such as grandparents with grandchildren — to pack food boxes the night before delivery. 

“It is such a worthwhile and rewarding project and I’m proud of the way Monroe has stepped up to help so many, for so many years,” she said.