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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Dec. 16, 2010                                                    

Offering the gift of hope for
the holidays

HCS Family Services, with help of giving community, helps brighten
season for many

By Ken Knutson

    “Thank you guys so much,” exclaimed the man with a frozen turkey slung over his shoulder as local students toted a bag of donated food and presents for his family to his car.
   “Merry Christmas.”
   This was a common refrain heard during HCS Family Services holiday distribution Dec. 8 at the Memorial Building, providing 100 families with the ingredients for a holiday celebration in a season of, for many, great desperation.
   Debbie Baker, HCS development director, said large donations and an army of student volunteers helped make this year’s event extra special.
   “I feel as though the generosity increased. We don’t typically do a food distribution with the gifts,” she said, noting that 1,600 underprivileged people are served during the holidays through all of the agency’s programs around town.
   Hinsdale Central High School families were matched with HCS client families who indicated gifts they would like to receive. Hinsdale Middle School families, meanwhile, filled grocery bags for each family.
   Among the HMS donors was former Chicago Blackhawk player Brent Sopel, whose family went a step further and donated hundreds of turkeys.
   Julie Suarez, who helps run the HCS food pantry and serves as volunteer coordinator, said being able to provide so much food is gratifying.
   “I really like it, especially when we’re giving out food. This is what people worry about all year. This puts a lot of anxiety to rest,” she said.
   The operation was like a high-functioning workshop, with middle school runners dashing upstairs to retrieve each client’s collection of gifts. Dozens of festively festooned grocery bags shared space in the Memorial Building’s upper chamber with a similar number of lovingly wrapped presents.
   Downstairs, Santa and Mrs. Claus, played by Jim and Sue Nibeck, greeted the guests. Children beamed with anticipation of what the ascending and descending “elves” would present to them.
   For many of the families, the food and gifts will be all they have this holiday season, Baker said.
   “It is really nice to be able to do this for them. They truly need it. They wouldn’t be able to have such a wonderful meal without it. There just may not be any presents for them,” she said.
   Upstairs, Central juniors Jake Schaffer and Will Schneider tracked down the gifts for each of the families. Both take part in the school’s annual Habitat for Humanity projects and embraced this opportunity to serve.
   “It feels good helping out and helping making these people’s Christmases a little happier,” Schaffer said.
   Schneider was surprised at the number of families turning out for the distribution.
   “There are more than I thought. It makes you aware of the need,” he said.
   Presents awaiting their new owners included Barbie Dolls for girls, Hot Wheels sets for boys and house robes or other clothing for moms, many of whom are single parents. A few of the families are homeless.
   Baker said one family arrived late to the event to find a shiny new bike for the 13-year-old son.
   “(The mother) was completely overwhelmed. Her son hadn’t had a bike in the longest time. It was really great,” she said.
   Baker said the donors and volunteers do most of the heavy lifting for the various HCS-sponsored events around the community.
   “It’s easy because there are so many groups that are a part of it,” she said. “I don’t seek one donor for this program. Everybody calls me.”
   One woman accompanied by her 7-year-old son, a self-proclaimed video game fan, said she was touched by the outpouring of generosity.
   “It’s nice, it’s very nice. We really, really appreciate this. They have a lot of people help out,” she said.
   Hinsdale Middle School seventh-graders Lexie Limparis and Ilana Furlan braved the cold in shorts and T-shirts to carry items out to people’s cars.
   “We just came from cheerleading practice,” they said, flashing smiles that showed no sign of chattering teeth.
   Baker said she’s always worn out by the close of the distribution, but she never tires of the selfless spirit she bears witness to each year.
   “This season is hard on most families who don’t know if they would ever have a great Christmas without the program,” she said. “I think it’s amazing that people who live in this community make this possible. To me, that’s the greatest thing.”

Community effort
HCS Family Services has been distributing food, gifts and holiday cheer to the nonprofit agency’s client families thanks to the support of many throughout the community. The agency expects to serve about 2,000 individuals for Christmas.
   Here are the groups that adopted between five and 100 families.

   • Christ Lutheran Church of Clarendon Hills
   • Hinsdale Central High School
   • Hinsdale Middle School
   • Hinsdale Junior Women’s Club
   • Madison School
   • St. Isaac Jogues
   • Walker School
   • Whole Food Market Hinsdale


    Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and HCS Family Services, which works to
empower families and change lives.





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