Empty Stocking program entering 30th year


The Empty Stocking Program is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Miles City this year. This program assists the less fortunate families and individuals in Miles City and the surrounding area.

Donna Orthman, with the Custer County Office of Public Assistance, worked with the program for more than 26 years. She said that when the program first started it was run out of the office, which was then located in the basement of the Custer County Courthouse. John Trull, who was the county director at that time, was instrumental in starting the program, which grew throughout years and has been housed in various buildings around Miles City.

Orthman said that starting in 2012, members from the Miles City Jaycees have been providing a lot of help with the program.

“Their enthusiasm has caused them to volunteer to run this program,” said Orthman. “We are very fortunate that they are going to do this because it had become a problem for the Empty Stocking Board to continue to run this program and give it all of the attention it so richly deserves and needs.”

As a result of the change in sponsorship, the Empty Stocking Program is a little different than in previous years.

Val Pachl and Cindy Anderson are co-chairs of this year’s program. According to Pachl, the program will be run out of the basement of the Elks Lodge. Individuals may bring donated new items to the Elks Lodge basement on Tuesday, Dec. 5, from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 7, from 9 a.m. to noon. During the following week, families that have filled out and returned applications for the program will be contacted and appointments will be made so they can come in and pick up their gifts.

All of the application forms must be returned to the Empty Stocking Program, P.O. Box 1584, Miles City, MT 59301, and the forms must be postmarked by Sunday, Dec. 1.

Forms can be picked up at the courthouse’s Office of Public Assistance, Custer County Health Department, Custer County Community Health Center and Head Start.

Pachl said that Miles City has been tremendously supportive of the program over the years. 

“If we didn’t have the community, we wouldn’t have the program,” said Pachl. “We take monetary donations all year long, ranging from $25 or less to more than $1,000. We start pulling names for those to be helped by the program and asking for applications from those needing assistance through the program in October. The donations go primarily for children, the elderly and disabled individuals to make their lives a little brighter during the holiday season.”

The local firefighters, Thrivent for Lutherans and 4-H youth around Custer County have been assisting with the program. Pachl added that many Miles City churches, the Salvation Army, businesses and service organizations take children shopping for clothing.

“People may ‘adopt’ families or children for Christmas by providing toys, clothes or other items,” said Pachl.

Anyone who would like to help with this year’s Empty Stocking Program may call Pachl at 234-4196 or Cindy Anderson at 234-8547. Monetary donations may be sent to The Empty Stocking Program at the above address.

Gift cards also are available for someone to purchase to give donations to the program in the name of a hard-to-buy-for person. The giver may contact Pachl or Anderson to make arrangements to pick up a gift card to be delivered to the recipient or to have the card mailed for the giver.

People can volunteer to help set up items and wrap gifts in the Elks Lodge basement during the week starting Monday, Dec. 9. Also, toy donations may be placed in the Toys for Tots boxes located at various sites around Miles City including Wal-Mart and Discovery Pond.

Pachl said that one Miles City resident shops all year long for the Empty Stocking Program and brings in boxes of toys.

“He doesn’t expect any recognition,” said Pachl. “He has fun doing this.”

In addition to helping make Christmas brighter for families and children, the program has been able to provide assistance to the elderly and disabled by paying some of their rent and fuel expenses with some of the donated funds. Pachl added that the Jaycees is a 501(c)(3) organization.

“We’re thankful to the Miles City community for continuing the Empty Stocking Program’s tradition, because for some families, these are the only gifts they get,” said Pachl.