Empty Stocking Club

Burnett Reed and daughter Aria

‘Empty Stocking is literally delivering Christmas to some families’

GAYLE WORLAND For the State Journal

The Empty Stocking Club, a Wisconsin State Journal charity for children since 1918, is funded
by the generous donations of readers and community members to assure that no child goes
without at least one brand-new, high-quality toy at Christmas, regardless of their family’s
financial situation.


It started a week ago when Burnett Reed woke up barely able to breathe.

“I woke up and felt like somebody was choking me,” said the 27-year-old special-education assistant.

He’d barely left the house but still had contracted COVID-19. Since he’s young and otherwise healthy, the doctor advised him to stay home and ride out the illness.

“I thought it would be over in a week, but it’s been the worst week I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

Christmas shopping for his energetic 6-year-old daughter, Aria, of course, has been out of the question. But Reed, a single dad, has been getting help from friends and from the Odyssey Project, the UW-Madison program he enrolled in last September.

The Odyssey Project offers a two-semester, UW-Madison humanities course for adults who have faced barriers to higher education or who are living near the poverty level. Students earn six college credits upon completion.

“Pretty much everybody there is amazing,” said Reed, whose long-term goal is to become a licensed special education teacher and sign language interpreter.

The Odyssey Project also has put Reed in touch with many community resources, he said, including the Empty Stocking Club.

Odyssey Junior, a related program that serves youths, is one of the dozens of community partners the Empty Stocking Club is working with this year to provide toys for 10,000 Madison-area children.

Founded more than 100 years ago, the Empty Stocking Club is funded by the generous donations of Wisconsin State Journal readers and community members to assure that no child goes without at least one brand-new, high-quality toy at Christmas, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

This has been an especially challenging year, with a high demand for toys and complicated logistics to safely get the gifts into the hands of families during the pandemic. No toys will be distributed directly to families this year; instead, all are being delivered via partners such as social service organizations and school social workers.

The children of about 20 Odyssey families will be among the thousands receiving toys from Empty Stocking in 2020, said Odyssey Junior coordinator Karen Dreyfuss.

“I think this year more than ever, families are stretched so thin, just trying to pay for housing and utilities and food. There’s not a lot left over for the holiday season,” she said. When families are battling illness from COVID-19 on top of that, “I can’t imagine” the difficulty, she added.

Through the years Shantrice Solis helps run the Kennedy Heights Community Center, which is partnering with Empty Stocking Club this year to provide toys for children in the community center’s preschool, elementary school-age programs and youth clubs.

“As a kid, my mom used to go to Empty Stocking to get gifts,” Solis said. “Empty Stocking always came through.”

Comfort Solis, the mother of four sons under age 8 and a relative of Shantrice Solis, is one of the two dozen parents that the community center made certain got on the Empty Stocking list.

“It’s going to help me out in such an amazing way,” said Comfort Solis, who notes that her boys are dreaming of superhero toys and racing cars for Christmas.

“I recently had to stop working so I could focus on my classes to get my CNA (certified nursing assistant certificate),” she said. “Having Empty Stocking is really a blessing.”

The Madison Reading Project is working with Empty Stocking this year to also provide a brand-new book for each child, personally selected for that child’s reading level and interests.

“Empty Stocking is literally delivering Christmas to some families,” Dreyfuss said.

“Every father wants to be able to provide for his daughter,” said Reed. “I can give (Aria) what she needs, not always what she wants.”

Getting a toy from Empty Stocking “helps me out a lot,” he said. “I truly appreciate the program and all it does for people. When she sees that present under the tree, she’s going to be more than excited.”

How to help

Donations to Empty Stocking Club can be made by credit card at www.emptystockingclub.com, 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 all names of Empty Stocking Club donors in the newspaper to thank them for their support.

More information and volunteering opportunities can be found at www.emptystockingclub.com and on the Empty Stocking Club page on Facebook. Executive director Lynn Wood can be reached at emptystockingclub@gmail.com.

Read the full article at: https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/empty-stocking-is-literally-delivering-christmas-to-some-families/article_6f8187b3-4c59-52c4-9482-06d2889d4ab1.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share