Sunday, May 22, 2022

Parents thankful Toy Depot puts smiles on their children's faces on Christmas – Madison.com

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Volunteer Nicole Hadaway, right, helps a family pick out gifts at this year’s Empty Stocking Club Toy Depot at the Alliant Energy Center.
Natalye Booker is thankful she doesn’t have to worry about Christmas.
“Being low income is hard,” she said. “You want to do so much for your children and sometimes you just can’t.”
So Booker started signing up for the Empty Stocking Club when her daughter, now 24, was little.
“At first, I was like, ‘Oh, I feel bad asking for help and I shouldn’t (have) to do this,’” she said. “And I did it because I wanted her to smile. It wasn’t about me. It was about my daughter. So I went in and I was so grateful and appreciative to get the gift that I did for my daughter.”
Booker has since added three more children to her family, two sons now in their teens and her 8-year-old daughter, Rue.
The years, though, haven’t been easy. The challenges have piled up.
A back injury. Disability. Depression.
Then, at 5 months old, Rue contracted meningitis. She spent more than a month in the hospital, some of that time in a coma, and experienced 30-plus strokes that, among other things, left her mostly deaf.
So, yes, there have been — and continue to be — struggles.
But thanks to the generosity of those who donate to the Empty Stocking Club, Booker doesn’t worry about Christmas.
Wisconsin State Journal employees founded Empty Stocking in 1918. The program has changed a bit over the years, but its purpose — helping local children have a merry Christmas — hasn’t changed a bit.
The State Journal still sponsors Empty Stocking, which uses donations from readers and other community members to buy toys. Those toys are then set up in a Toy Depot at the Alliant Energy Center where, every December, parents and caregivers pick out a new, high-quality toy for each of their children.
Thanks to a partnership with the Madison Reading Project, each child now also gets a book.
“Going there, getting that help, makes me know that I can put food on the table and make a great dinner, and they can also have an awesome Christmas,” Booker said. “And that’s what it’s all about, for the children. I don’t need anything for Christmas. My Christmas is to watch their face when they open their gift.”
This year, the Empty Stocking Club distributed 6,891 toys, serving 2,617 families. Readers and other community members have donated more than $331,500 to this year’s toy drive.
Dedonta Davis shopped for Toy Depot presents for his son and three other children.
“My child’s mother has COVID right now, so I’m picking up the gifts for her,” Davis said. “We’re not together. But (Empty Stocking) definitely helps. She has other kids, and it takes a lot of stress off her back for the holidays and makes her be able to pay the bills more, instead of focusing on Christmas.”
Davis’ shopping list was simple:
“I was looking to make them happy. And it worked.”
As a former recipient of Empty Stocking toys, Davis is doubly appreciative.
“It’s still a wonderful thing,” he said. “I wish I was able to give back more and donate as well, but it’s still beautiful.”
Yolanda Robinson, of Madison, picked out toys for five of her grandchildren, who range in age from baby to teenager.
She arrived with a good idea of what she wanted to get for them and walked out with, among other things, a doll and a Dart Zone toy.
“They had quite a good selection in there,” Robinson said.
For Booker, Empty Stocking means she can count on her kids getting one “big present” every year.
“Some of the smaller stuff you can (buy for your children) maybe a week before, like a pack of underwear or some socks,” she said. “Stuff like that, that comes easier. But when they want headphones or something like a bigger doll, some of those dolls and headphones are like $40 or $50. It’s ridiculous, you know?”
“I just really want to thank the Empty Stocking Club for the years that they have helped me, and I really appreciate it.”
You can donate to the Empty Stocking Club online at emptystockingclub.com or mail contributions to Empty Stocking Club, Wisconsin State Journal, Box 8056, Madison, WI 53708.
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Volunteer Nicole Hadaway, right, helps a family pick out gifts at this year’s Empty Stocking Club Toy Depot at the Alliant Energy Center.
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