BILLINGS — It’s been 16 years since Billings Skyview hosted the inaugural Pack the Place in Pink. Now featured essentially statewide, it’s almost unfathomable to grasp the rapid growth.
“Since my (volleyball coaching) retirement in 2020, we haven't changed directions. We've just added on," said Vicki Carle, who launched the organization nearly two decades ago during a bout with breast cancer. "Montana State has partnered with us and we've got a volleyball match with them for Pack the Place in Pink on Oct. 14 and we've got a football game on Nov. 4. We've reached out and we keep getting larger. I bet we've had 10-15 people we've never heard from before call us and say, 'Hey. I want to do something to help.'"
“I just do a small part here compared to all the volunteers that are everywhere else," said Huntley Project volleyball coach Iona Stookey. "But it's great for Montana. It makes my heart feel good to be able to help different women who are going through exactly what I went through."
Carle and Stookey are two of Montana’s pillars in women’s sports and have forged a unique relationship through both volleyball and breast cancer. In fact, Stookey was one of the first recipients of the organization’s generous gifts to breast cancer patients across Montana.
“Vicki came out to my house and she was the first one that day that came and talked to me. You would have thought we'd been friends forever," Stookey said. "I think that's just what cancer does, is brings you together. She knew what I was going through, and that was at the beginning. After I went through everything, it was a tough three years for me. It was about a three-year process for everything."
“She was one of the first. She was very gracious and very humbled by our kindness," Carle said. "Like everybody who gets involved, you're just driven now to help people. Iona knows that fear. I know that fear."
Montana is one of the largest states in the country, yet it has a sense of community that’s unmatched, and that’s a big reason Pack the Place in Pink has spread like wildfire.
“Truly I believe that. There's a special thing about a Montanan anyway, we all know. But when you reach out to a friend — all you have to do is ask," Carle said. "I believe because we are all kind of connected — big state but small numbers — we're just kind of one big pink team that just keeps getting a little bit bigger and adding a few more members each year."
As Carle said, the foundation has kind of taken a mind of its own, and who knows what kind of growth lies ahead.