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Christmas Stocking a longstanding tradition
Volunteer shoppers are busy selecting appropriate toys for families in need through the Monroe Woman's Club Christmas Stocking program. Pictured is the late Katie Etter, one of the original founders of the project. (Photo supplied)

Christmas Stocking Fund

The Christmas Stocking Fund is an annual effort of the Monroe Woman's Club. The club collects money and other donations, and distributes clothes, toys and vouchers for shoes and boots to children in need in the Monroe school district. Families also receive food boxes, complete with ingredients to prepare a holiday meal, delivered before Christmas. Cheer boxes are also delivered to the elderly.

Every year, the Christmas Stocking benefits hundreds of families. Names of families in need are offered confidentially by school officials, counselors and area churches. The effort requires a multitude of volunteers who shop for families, bake cookies and pack and deliver food boxes.

To donate to the Christmas Stocking Fund, send contributions to 901 16th Ave., Monroe, Wis., 53566. All contributions are used locally to fund the program. A pre-addressed envelope is also included inside today's edition of the Times.

MONROE - The calendar may say November, but the Christmas season is in full swing for the volunteers of the Monroe Woman's Club Christmas Stocking.

Names of children and families in need have been collected and passed out to volunteer shoppers, who in turn gather toys and clothing for the children.

The Christmas Stocking program, a longstanding Monroe tradition, collects money to help support its giving efforts. In addition to providing children with a toy for Christmas, the program provides vouchers for boots or shoes for children, food boxes for families, and cheer boxes of cookies and other goodies for the elderly. Members also hold a coat drive in the fall, collecting gently used winter coats that are cleaned free of charge by Monroe Cleaners and then distributed, along with warm hats, mittens and scarves, for children in need.

And that need is great: Last year, the program benefited 380 families, which accounts for more than 800 children. That number increases each year; in 2009, for example, the program served 336 families.

The club also hosts a toy drive, with drop-off locations throughout the community.

Co-coordinators Marilyn Pfarr and Pam Drafall took the reins of the toy drive last year, and to help meet the rising need, the women made a concerted effort to grow the program. "We went to different businesses and asked to put a box in their vestibule or lobby," Drafall said.

Collecting toys is a great complement to the monetary donations the community provides, the women said. With so many things to buy - such as the boots, food for family boxes and jeans or sweatshirts for middle and high school-age children - the donated toys help the club stretch monetary donations as far as possible.

"We need both aspects of it," Drafall said. "We want to make sure every child gets a toy."

The two started this year's toy drive in September, when they contacted businesses to find out where potential donation boxes could be placed. Collection boxes can be found around town, including in banks, car dealerships and taverns. The Monroe Times also has a collection box located in its lobby.

Drafall and Pfarr have already started collecting donated toys from these drop-off sites, and bringing them back to the "shopping room," a room at the Behring Senior Center where the 300 volunteer shoppers can pick out age- and gender-appropriate toys for their assigned children.

"When we can start the room with a good selection of toys, and still have toys we can keep putting out, we feel we've been successful," Drafall said.

The shopping room gets depleted of toys pretty quickly, Pfarr said. Collecting the toys throughout the season from the multiple drop-off sites makes sure that "there's always a fresh supply" of toys to be distributed. Some drop-off locations will require multiple trips throughout the season, while others require only one or two pick-ups.

All donations are welcome, as they will all make their way into the hands of local children in need. Donated toys should be unwrapped, so volunteer shoppers can see what the item is and determine if it is appropriate for their assigned children. Many of the toys collected are for babies, Pfarr said, so toys for ages 6 to 10, for both genders, are particularly needed.

"Everything is well-received," Drafall said, noting that donations run the gamut from small, such as fancy pencils or new crayons, to moderately-priced toys and games.

People who donate later in the season need not worry that the toy they've given won't be used: Any donations left at the end of this year are stored and put out at the beginning of next year, so the program can hit the ground running with a selection of toys for the new Christmas Stocking season.

Pfarr said part of the appeal of the toy drives is that donors know their gifts are helping a local child.

The families who receive the help are grateful. Pfarr said she's heard from some mothers who want their children to know their gift came from the Christmas Stocking, while other mothers prefer their children think the gift came from the parents.

Either way is fine with Pfarr.

"I don't care as long as the child is taken care of, and the family is taken care of," she said.

"It's a big undertaking. We couldn't do it without community support."

Toy drive sites:

• First National Bank, 1624 10th St.

• Wisconsin Bank and Trust, 1717 10th St.

• Culver's of Monroe, 252 8th St.

• Guerin Chiropractic, 1419 9th St.

• Anchor Bank, 1712 12th St.

• Sugar River Bank, 250 18th Ave.

• Family Chiropractic, 18th Ave.

• Monroe Chamber of Commerce, 1505 9th St.

• Colony Brands, 1112 7th Ave.

• MTX, 1000 30th St.

• Monroe Clinic, 515 22nd Ave.

• Dollar General, 639 4th Ave.

• Shopko of Monroe, 405 8th St.

• Grande Cheese, N2607 County S, Juda

• Associated Bank, 1420 11th St.

• Woodford State Bank, 403 W. 8th St.

• Monroe Truck and Equipment, 1051 7th St.

• Orchid, 350 21st St.

• 2W Zumba

• Jailhouse Tap, 1404 12th St.

• Papa Don's Horseshoe, 1901 10th Ave.

• Ruda Chevrolet, 104 8th St.

• Alphorn Ford, N2985 18th Ave.

• Minhas Brewery, 1208 14th Ave.

• US Cellular/Radio Shack, 301 6th Ave. W. Ste. 129

• Dearth Buick-GMC, 602 8th St.

• Dearth Motors, 520 8th St.

• City Hall, 1224 10th Ave.

• Monroe Times, 1065 4th Ave. West

• Pizza Hut, 550 8th Ave.

• First Community C.U., 140 W. 7th St.