Peeking into her stocking on Christmas morning to see what goodies were inside always was Leslie LaMarca’s favorite part of the gift-giving tradition.
When she was 8 years old, she realized her mother, Sandy, never got a stocking. On Christmas morning, her dad’s stocking always was brimming with goodies from Santa, as was hers, but she grew worried there was nothing for her mom.
LaMarca decided to ask her aunt to help her sew one for her mother. After crafting it, she couldn’t wait to go shopping for goodies to stuff inside, such as Wrigley’s spearmint gum, Brach’s French burnt peanuts, a new rubber spatula and some pretty hot pads. On Christmas morning, it was filled and waiting for her mother.
“I will never forget her surprise and joy when she found her stocking on Christmas morning,” LaMarca said.
Every year since – even when LaMarca got married, had two children of her own and couldn’t always be with her mom on Christmas morning – she made sure Sandy had a stocking filled with goodies.
Sandy died 18 months ago. Last Christmas, LaMarca of Pingree Grove still found herself looking with sadness at items in the store, thinking they would be great to fill her mother’s stocking.
Remembering her mother’s joy over the stocking, and hoping to balance out some of that sadness, LaMarca set out to help others have that same joy on Christmas morning this year.
She started Sandy’s Stocking, aiming to fill more than 250 stockings for local students in need as part of her volunteer efforts with the D300 Food Pantry, located at Carpentersville Middle School to serve the families of Community Unit School District 300.
“It was at one of those painful reminder moments that I had the idea to take this beautiful memory of my relationship with my mom and, instead of letting it just bring me grief, turn it into a project that would spread the joy and love of a simple stocking to others,” she said.
She said the project is a small way for community members and groups to help bring a little extra joy to others at Christmas. There are many donation drives for larger necessities at Christmas and gift wish list projects, she said.
This project focuses on a smaller-scale donation opportunity.
“I feel like stockings are kind of the extra gift at Christmas – the icing on the cake, per se,” she said. “I know if families are stringently watching their budgets, a stocking is probably not going to make the cut. On average, filling a stocking can cost as minimal as $10 to $15, but provides another layer of delight during the holiday season for children.”
Each individual, family or group that volunteers for Sandy’s Stocking will receive an opaque bag with a stocking inside, along with an age range for the recipient and some suggestions for stocking stuffers.
Organizers are hoping people will have fun shopping for new, unwrapped items to put inside and bring joy to a child.
When stuffed, the stockings will go back to the food pantry in the opaque bag for distribution in December.
That will allow for a more discreet distribution, LaMarca said, as many families shop at the food pantry together.
During its first year, the food pantry served more than 1,100 children from the households in CUSD 300, LaMarca said.
She started at the pantry two weeks after it opened last year. She is the community outreach and fundraising director, which she says correlates perfectly to projects like Sandy’s Stocking.
“With the help of other members from our leadership team, we have brought other extra programs and offerings to our clients, such as an Easter Egg Hunt, complete with a visit from the Easter Bunny, and our Just Keep Learning summer celebration when we handed out hundreds of donated books and educational games,” she said. “Our pantry manager, Kris Korth, has done an amazing job at building a sense of community among our clients. Programs like Sandy’s Stocking help fulfill that central part of our mission.
“Sandy’s Stocking is just another way to bring holiday cheer to some struggling families,” she said.
LaMarca said she knows the families will be grateful and joyful. She’s seen their smiles over the smallest of donated items as they shop for food at the pantry.
“Every week we get to see kids’ smiles and other exuberant bursts of joy over packages of Oreo cookies or Star Wars popsicles,” she said. “We also get to see the undeniable look of relief on the parents’ faces when they are able to put a nice roast or enough toothbrushes for their whole family in their shopping cart. My hope is that by us being able to provide this little extra bit of holiday fun for the kids, it will bring some additional relief for the parents.”
The goal is to get 250 stuffed stockings donated. If they meet or exceed that goal, LaMarca said, she will be thrilled. The pantry also is accepting monetary donations from anyone who does not have time to stuff a stocking.
So far, individuals, Girl Scout troops, Cub Scout packs and more, as well as families, have committed to 150 stockings.
The Dundee Crown High School National Honor Society this week volunteered to fill 70 stockings. Each month, the school’s National Honor Society members look for an act of kindness they can participate in.
Cori Allison, the Dundee Crown NHS adviser, said she brought up the stocking project for the November act of kindness, and many kids loved the idea of helping out fellow students within the district.
“I think knowing that these stockings are going straight to our community is a driving force in their participation,” Allison said.
“I’m thrilled we are able to add additional Christmas spirit to the younger students in the community,” she said. “The National Honor Society members are excited about this project, and I hope our participation helps encourage other groups in the community to reach out.”
For those who commit to filling stockings, LaMarca will deliver them the week of Nov. 13. They need to be filled and returned by Dec. 16 for distribution in time for Christmas. Those interested in filling a stocking can contact the food pantry at firstname.lastname@example.org.