About us

What is the Empty Stocking Club?

The Empty Stocking Club is the charitable arm of the Wisconsin State Journal and provides new toys to needy families in the Dane County and surrounding area each year at Christmas. The Empty Stocking Club is a 501(c)3 operating under the name Wisconsin State Journal Youth Services, Inc. and its sole mission is to ensure every child has a toy on Christmas.

Our Team

Who runs the Empty Stocking Club?

A seven-member board of directors runs the Empty Stocking Club. The President is typically the Publisher or Editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and the remaining board is made up of newspaper employees, past employees or retired employees as well as community members.

There are two paid employees, the Executive Director that runs the day-to-day operations of the organization and the accountant who handles the finances of the organization.

In addition, there is one part-time employee that works November and December processing donations that come in.  

The next Toy Depot Event will be

December 14-15, 2022

8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin

Apply for a toy
See event details
Our History

How and when did Empty Stocking Club begin?

1918 — First toy giveaway

The Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ), a daily newspaper publishing seven days a week, has been in existence since 1859.

In 1918 the wives of the reporters would collect old toys, fix them up, paint them and distribute them from the newspaper office to families in need - thus the start of the first toy giveaway.

1976 — Mergers and grants

In 1976, under the direction of the WSJ publisher, J. Martin Wolman, the Empty Stocking Club merged with Children’s Services and became the Wisconsin State Journal Youth Services, Inc.

At that time, it was decided to start giving grants out to local service organizations. The grants ranged from $100 up to $10,000.

2004 — Helping Hands created

In 2004 Helping Hands was created. This program asks local school children to write in what they would do if they had $200 to give someone during the holidays.

This program is still in existence and receives donations specific to Helping Hands. The stories submitted are heart wrenching. Helping Hands has a paid employee that vets each story that receives a donation.

2008 — Program set up for schools

In 2008, reserve funds were moved to the Madison Community Foundation and a program was set up to give area schools money to purchase supplies or items for children in need. The schools are in Dane, Rock, Columbus and Sauk Counties.

2014 — Partnership with United Way

In 2014 Empty Stocking Club was approached by United Way with a large donation of toys from Mattel and were looking for a group to give these toys to. In return, United Way wanted a space and location to run their Teen Gift Program.

In the past, the United Way’s Teen Gift Program partnered with the Salvation Army’s Toys for Tots. In 2014 the Salvation Army discontinued their partnership with United Way.

2018 — Celebrating 100th anniversary

In 2018, Empty Stocking Club celebrated its 100-year anniversary.

After 75 years, the Rounder's Club, created by Roundy Coughlin, legendary sportswriter for the Wisconsin State Journal, held its final Holiday Luncheon fundraising event to support the Empty Stocking Club.

Wisconsin State Journal Youth Services, Inc., acknowledged the long-time commitment of Wayne Esser with presentation of a "Roundy Award" for continuing the legacy of event patron Roundy Coughlin.

2019 — Nearly 10,000 toys distributed

Empty Stocking Club Toy Depot was held in Hall A at the Alliant Energy Center on Tuesday, December 10-11, 2019.

The event successfully distributed nearly 10,000 toys to children in Dane County and the surrounding area. The event raised $267,806 from donations made by 3,132 donors.

2020 — Books and a pandemic pivot

Empty Stocking Club partnered with Madison Reading Project to add distribution of books to the annual Toy Depot event. Each child now receives one book and one toy.

Like the rest of the world, Empty Stocking Club had to pivot to find safe ways to distribute toys to children via partnerships with more than 100 community organizations, churches and schools.

The Toy Depot that typicall runs three days spanned 2 1/2 weeks and included five different distribution methods. The core activities were staged in Hall A at the Alliant Energy Center and distribution continued from remote locations and via doorstep delivery through December 23.

The 2020 event successfully distributed nearly 9,000 toys to more than 3,300 local families, and raised more than $415,000 in donations from 3,525 donors (individuals, businesses, and organizations) from the Greater Dane County area, and states across the country.

2021 — Getting back to normal

The 2021 Toy Depot was almost "back to normal" as a mask-required distribution event at the Alliant Energy Center.

The event, still impacted by COVID-19, served approximately 3,000 families and nearly 7,000 children. It was relatively seamless thanks to the help of an unprecedented number of volunteers — 600 registered! — who came forward to help.

More than 3,000 people and organizations from the Greater Dane County area and states across the country donated almost $350,000.