Group seeks stocking stuffers | News, Sports, Jobs – Altoona Mirror

Nov 2, 2021
Courtesy photo Paige Harpster, student at Myers Elementary School, shows a note she wrote to attach to a stocking to send to Josh Ciambotti, a soldier deployed in Iraq.
BELLWOOD — Military Families Ministry has launched its 2021 Stockings for the Troops Project in which the nonprofit group will ship Christmas stockings to deployed service members unable to spend the holiday with their families.
To aid in the mission to brighten the holidays for deployed service members, Myers Elementary School students will partner to collect items and send stockings, organizers said.
While the stocking stuffing event date has yet to be finalized, ministry cofounder and director Tracie Ciambotti said the outreach is important to military members and Myers Elementary students.
On the stocking stuffing day, students gather in the main street area of the school and each fill a stocking, adding a handmade card to the finished gift.
“Students, families and faculty donate the items for their project and they seek monetary donations from local businesses to help cover the cost of shipping the stockings,” Ciambotti said.
Myers Elementary has been participating in the project for about 12 years, said Principal Matthew Stinson.
“Tracie Ciambotti continues to be an amazing liaison for this event and we are blessed to have the opportunity to take part in it,” Stinson said. “I know, without a doubt, that it is one of the most anticipated days of the entire year.”
Stinson said the project helps students, faculty and staff “realize the sacrifices that are being made by so many people to protect our freedoms.”
The stockings give “us a chance to say ‘Thank You’ for all they do,” he added.
“The amount of enjoyment our students feel, helping with this project, cannot be measured,” Stinson said. “They absolutely look forward to this event each year.”
The donation drive will be held throughout the month of November, Ciambotti said, adding that the program actually got a head start this year.
“I received a request from a Navy Captain out to sea and deployed over Christmas for 350 stockings for his sailors. He said it has been taking them two months to get mail and asked if there was any way we could ship the stockings by the end of October. We always go buy stockings right after Christmas when they are on clearance sale so we have them for the next year’s project and we had 313 on hand,” Ciambotti said. “Then I got a call from a donor in Altoona saying she had a bag of new/empty stockings for me and when we picked them up, there were 40 stockings, so we had just what we needed to get these sailors their stockings. We went and purchased all of the items to stuff these stockings — $1,700 worth — as we had not done our donation drive yet. This past Tuesday night, we stuffed all the stockings and they were shipped on Wednesday.”
Ciambotti, who has had a son serving in the Army since 2005, started the program in 2010 because she said “I have lived this and I know how it feels to be a mother with a son deployed in a war zone, wondering if he is OK and praying he will come home.”
“I have spent countless holidays, family events, his sisters’ weddings — all without him because he was serving our country. I do this because I know that our freedom is not free and that less than one person of our nation’s population is willing to serve and sacrifice their own freedom for the other 99 percent,” Ciambotti said.
Ciambotti counts on support from community members and businesses to make the program a success, noting that some businesses host stocking stuffing events on their own and ship the completed stockings to an address provided by Ciambotti. Other groups collect items for the stockings or make monetary donations.
“This year, the rising cost of everything is really hurting our budget,” she said, noting it cost $3,000 to stuff and ship the 350 stockings to the Navy ship.
Looking ahead, Ciambotti said she has requests for another 1,650 stockings to be sent to deployed service members.
“Since 2010 when we began, we have never received a request that we were not able to fill so I am counting on our community partners to help us get the stockings and funds we need so everyone of those 1,650 service members gets a stocking,” she said.
Anyone who would like to donate can drop items off in Altoona at the DeGol Organization, 3229 Pleasant Valley Blvd., and ARC Federal Credit Union, 1919 Seventh Ave. or 419 N. Seventh St.
Locations in Bellwood include the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, 526 Main St.; Mayhue’s Garage, 601 Main St.; and The Hope Center, 421 Main St.
Donations will also be accepted in Tyrone at Mac’s Meat Market, 1658 Columbia Ave.; Kelly Wike State Farm office, 1203 Pennsylvania Ave.; and The Beauty Salon, 23 W. 10th St.
Donations needed for the stockings include individually wrapped Twizzlers; hard candy (must be placed in zippered bags); chapstick; toothbrush and small toothpaste; hot chocolate and oatmeal packets; snack and food bars (granola, protein, cereal, nut); crackers — peanut butter, cheese; ramen soup packets; individually wrapped cookies (no homemade cookies can be accepted); Slim Jim and beef jerky; individual drink mixes for water bottles; small packets of trail mix, nuts, pretzels, fruit or other snacks; deck of cards or small card game; or Christmas cards (homemade or bought) with a personal message from sender.
For more information about the program, visit or email
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