Holiday Food and Gift Basket Takes Off
Folks are dropping off bags of gifts, youngsters are wrapping presents - all for area needy.
It didn't take long on Saturday for United Lutheran Church to start buzzing.
At 8:59 a.m., one minute before scheduled lift-off, Cindy Belle and her husband Roger drove up and dropped off two carloads of huge black plastic bags laden with gifts.
The Holiday Food and Gift Basket program, which has been around since the 1970s, immediately began gathering up all the gift bags, which will be donated starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6 to families in need of a litte help this season.
Newcomers and old-timers, moms toting kids and teens dragging bags—all were taking part in one of the Oak Park area's biggest programs benefitting needy families.
"We started doing this 27 years ago. We're lifers at this," said Cindy Belle, of River Forest United Methodist Church.
Dec. 1 was the first day sponsors could bring in their gifts for the 2,200 men, women and children who were referred to the program by social service agencies and churches in the area. Last month the families on the program's list received food gift cards to buy fixings for their Thanksgiving dinner.
Sponsors, such as the Belles, are matched with a family in need and are provided a wish list for each member. Sponsors then shop and wrap the gifts, which are put into bags, tagged and brought to the church. Volunteers, like Valerie Woods and Mary Jane Welter, then check them in with great proficiency.
Chris Liskiewitz of Oak Park said she has been participating in the program for four years now. Her family and a couple of others on her block have sponsored a family of five—two adults and three children—this year.
"It's a nice feeling to be able to help a family at this time of the year," Liskiewitz said.
Sponsorships are not just adult-driven. Holmes Elementary School sponsored 12 families this year, and Henry Schacht, a student there, thought it would be cool to sponsor a family as well. It was a project that his mom, Meredith, was glad to participate in.
"We're having a nice Christmas and we wanted everyone else to have a nice one, too," she said.
Someone will have a nice holiday thanks to the program indeed: two girls in the family of eight that Nancy and Brian Woulfe are sponsoring asked for a stove and a play kitchen this Christmas. And so, Nancy walked into the church with a huge Christmas-wrapped play kitchen for the girls.
"Hopefully they got something on their wish list," Woulfe said.
Wish lists have been filled at Percy Julian Middle School as well. The school adopted 55 families this year. Students in Erin Howe's seventh grade advisory class were busily preparing their packages Monday morning. Students Erin Smith and Ariana Chavarria, for instance, were figuring out if they cut enough paper to wrap a man's polo shirt.
Helping others is second nature to them, Erin said.
"We're both Girl Scouts together," said Erin who is a senior cadet out of Troop 954, based at Longfellow and Beye elementary schools. "We do a lot of stuff like this."
Students Grace Derks and Zaria Temuru admitted they both weren't great at wrapping, but they made the best of taking care of a fleece jacket for a young girl.
"All this needs is a sticker and a bow," Grace said.
The rest of Julian will put their presents together on Thursday and the packages will be delivered later that day.
The numbers speak for the generosity of Oak Park families: all 2,200 needy people—families, singles and seniors in the Oak Park and River Forest area who signed up this year have found sponsors.
Want to help out? Drivers are still needed to deliver the goods on Saturday, Dec. 6. To volunteer email firstname.lastname@example.org.