Inflation has not hit the Winfrey girls’ hot chocolate stand, an annual fundraiser for the Marine Corp Reserves Toys for Tots program. In spite of their low prices, Kayla, 18, and Mara, 16, managed to break their own fundraising record, bringing in $1,650 this year. That meant more toys for needy children this Christmas.
Inflation has not hit the Winfrey girls’ hot chocolate stand, an annual fundraiser for the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program.
They charged 25 cents for hot chocolate and a cookie when they started 14 years ago, and they charged 25 cents for hot chocolate and a cookie on Friday, Dec. 15, during the 4 to 7 p.m. event at their home in Homewood.*
In spite of their low price, Kayla, 18, and Mara, 16, both Homewood-Flossmoor High School students, managed to break their own fundraising record, bringing in $1,650 this year.
On Saturday morning, they headed with their parents, Dave and Maureen Winfrey, to Toys ‘R Us in Matteson to convert the cash into a merrier Christmas for needy children.
They purchased 63 items, and along with toys donated during the hot chocolate sale, they added greatly to the collection already stacked in the lobby of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Brokerage’s office at the corner of Flossmoor Road and Sterling Avenue.
“It’s going to make some kids very happy,” Dave said. “That’s what it’s all about, giving something back.”
The girls’ project has come quite a ways from its beginning.
Kayla said it started when, at age 4, she asked her mom, “People have lemonade stands in the summer. Why don’t they have hot chocolate stands in the winter?”
With their parents help, the girls set out to rectify the situation, and they decided to direct the proceeds to the Toys for Tots program.
Maureen admits she was a little worried the first year that the girls might have trouble parting with the $50 worth of toys they bought. It wasn’t a problem, though.
The girls said they had fun doing the shopping, but they kept their eye on the goal of giving to those less fortunate.
“We would say, ‘I love that toy. Let’s give them that,’” Mara said. “We never had trouble parting with the toys.”
Although the shopping has been fun, they said they do sometimes get some curious stares from other shoppers. They worry others might think they are making the big toy haul for themselves.
John Beele, who has coordinated the Toys for Tots program since joining Coldwell Banker in 1998, said he was grateful for the Winfrey family’s efforts. He noted that the community has come to count on the hot chocolate sale as a holiday tradition.
“One neighbor told me, ‘This is when Christmas starts for me,’” Maureen said.
The girls noted it has become a community effort, too. They have noticed fliers posted around town that they didn’t create, so others are helping promote the project. And every year, more and more people they don’t know stop to buy hot chocolate and bring toys.
They also noted the contributions of the girls’ kindergarten art teacher at Willow School, Karen Schillings, who has been baking cookies for the sale all 14 years.
One year, a little boy told them he had saved money all year specifically for the hot chocolate sale. He gave them his piggy bank.
They estimate that, over the years, they have purchased more than $10,000 worth of toys from the proceeds of the hot chocolate stand.
* Correction: The story originally stated incorrectly that the family’s home is in Flossmoor.