For lots of people, getting into the holiday spirit means heading out to shop, whether it’s buying groceries for a special dish or the latest toy to surprise a child on Christmas morning.
Anyone looking to share that festive feeling with a neighbor can find an opportunity with Respond Now, the social service agency based in Chicago Heights that serves families in Homewood and Flossmoor, among other south suburbs.
“We’re looking for donations right now of food, toys, and of course cash,” said Sue Perkins, board president and Homewood resident. The community has been supportive for 47 years, and she is hopeful that local churches, school groups, scout troops and individuals will come through again this year.
Respond Now’s food pantry served 1,300 families in September, and Perkins said food drives and donations will help put a holiday meal on the table for at least that many families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The agency also will host its annual Christmas Store in an effort to make the holiday a little brighter for 1,400 of Respond Now’s youngest clients.
“We’re looking for donations of new toys for children, from newborns to 16-year-olds — everything from games, puzzles and dolls to sporting goods, coloring books, and arts and craft supplies,” she said.
“We’re also glad to get donations of gift cards to places like Walmart and Target, which are helpful in two ways. For one thing, they make a good gift for a teen-ager. And secondly, they allow us to buy items people don’t donate so we can fill in the gap and have something for kids of each age.”
Last year, Perkins said, the agency shared a gift card with a mother of seven children when Respond Now had nothing appropriate for her pre-teen.
“That way, she was able to go out and buy her child something he could use and would like,” she said. “A gift card enabled us to do that for her.” Each child gets one gift — for instance, a Lego set — as well as some small “stocking stuffer” gifts and some warm winter accessories like hats, gloves, scarves and socks.
Clients sign up at Respond Now around Thanksgiving, and usually the recipients are different families each year. But when the Christmas Store is open to them on Dec. 17-18, faces of the “elves” who distribute presents are likely to be the same, since many who volunteer for the program return year after year.
Additionally, students at Marian Catholic High School will once again collect toys and food for 250 of the 500 families served by Respond Now during the Christmas season.
Supporting Respond Now has become a holiday tradition for many people willing to reach out.
“It’s the holiday spirit,” Perkins said. “When people are living comfortably, it feels good to share so someone else can have a better holiday. And for many of our clients, this may be the only present a child gets.”
Anyone with questions is welcome to contact Perkins at Respond Now at 708-755-4357 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. People may drop off donations of food and toys behind Respond Now, 1439 Emerald Ave., Chicago Heights, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. To make a monetary donation, go to RespondNow.org.
This story was originally published in our first print edition Dec. 1.