Restoration Ministries 2019 Toy Store Shoppers wtih student volunteer_web
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Sense of satisfaction, dignity is part of this holiday toy store


As this pandemic year draws to a close, Pamela Rodey of Flossmoor went shopping for toys at Target.

She filled her shopping cart with toys and then donated all of them – about $300 worth – to Restoration Ministries in Harvey.

Her items will be sold at the social service agency’s annual Christmas Toy Store, scheduled for Dec. 11 at Restoration Ministries’ main building, 243 E. 159th Street.

Restoration Ministries runs a special toy store that gives families a chance to select gifts at reasonable prices. Here, a student volunteer assists shoppers in 2019. (Provided photo)

There has been a Christmas Toy Store at Restoration Ministries every year since 1994. It provides an opportunity for needy families to purchase new toys at a price they can afford. Last year, nearly 3,700 toys were donated by south suburban churches, schools, organizations and private individuals. About 270 families benefited from the program and 677 children received toys.

Rodey, a retired kindergarten teacher, has been a volunteer at Restoration Ministries for nearly 10 years. She has participated in other holiday programs – Christmas Angels and Adopt-a-Family – at Flossmoor Community Church. But this is the first year she has donated to the Christmas Toy Store.

“I really like the toy store,” she said. “Parents get to pick toys they like for their kids and they get to buy them at a very good price.”

All toys are priced between $1 and $5, even though they may be worth many times that amount.

Karen Vrdolyak, Restoration Ministries’ vice president for development and administration, said the toy store has the capacity to make local people in need feel good about buying presents during the holiday season.

“The Christmas Toy Store gives people a sense of satisfaction, and a sense of dignity,” she said. “Parents can shop for their kids. They are happy to do that and the kids will be happy too. This is not a handout.”

Parents also receive a raffle ticket for each of their children.

“Every once in a while we’ll get a big ticket item, like a bike or an American Girl doll,” Vrdolyak said. “When that happens we raffle off those toys.”

A wide assortment of toys will fill children’s wishes. The Christmas Toy Store is run by Restoration Ministries. (Provided photo)

Registration is underway for the Christmas Toy Store. Parents can sign up for the event at the Restoration Ministries food pantry distribution, which takes place every Saturday at its main building.

Prior to the start of COVID-19, the Food Pantry was only available to residents of Harvey, Phoenix and Dixmoor. With the onset of the pandemic, a drive-through food distribution is now open to other persons of need from around the South Suburbs.

After they register for the Christmas Toy Store, parents will be given a time when they can shop. Vrdolyak said 40 persons at a time will be allowed into the Restoration Ministries gym. They will need to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols while shopping.

Fifteen volunteers will also be on hand to gift-wrap presents, she said.

Restoration Ministries will be collecting toys though Dec. 7. After that, Vrdolyak said volunteers will begin sorting toys according to age groups and price.

“This is a big production,” she said. “But it’s worth it. This is all about helping people in need.”

Restoration Ministries was originally founded in 1988 as a program for recovering drug addicts. Since then the organization has established 20 programs that target addiction and provide services to underprivileged youths and families living in poverty. Each year, about 4,000 people receive services from the organization. Addictions rehabilitation is still a primary focus and the organization sponsors an 18-month residential treatment program. 

Pam Rodey of Flossmoor spends time reading to children at one of the many programs sponsored by Restoration Ministries. (Provided photo)

The organization’s headquarters has space for after school programs and a residential facility for men. A  residential facility for women is located in South Holland. There is a boxing club for boys and girls in Harvey that is adjacent to an arts center that provides instruction for children in the performing and visual arts. Restoration Ministries has a large thrift store in South Holland and smaller one in Harvey, which is currently closed because of COVID-19.

Rodey taught at Holmes School in Harvey, about two blocks from Restoration Ministries. She was familiar with the agency and, when she retired in 2011, inquired about volunteer opportunities.

Since then, she has led a kindergarten literacy program, Drawing Children Into Reading. Rodey is an artist and professional calligrapher and has used those skills as a volunteer. 

As a twice-a-week volunteer at the after-school program, she’s read stories while drawing pictures that were projected on the classroom wall. She’s also volunteered mornings during the Restoration Ministries summer day camp.

Her husband, Bob, a retired teacher at Rich East and Marian Catholic high schools, has also worked with students at Restoration Ministries, tutoring high school Advanced Placement students.

“This has been great for me,” Rodey said. “It’s so fulfilling to help these kids. I wanted to keep using my teaching skills after retirement and this has allowed me to do just that.”

Vrdolyak said Flossmoor Community Church has supported Restoration Ministries since 2012. FCC’s initial grant went for the organization’s youth programs – after-school homework help and tutoring, the visual and performing arts education center and the boxing club.

The church continued to support those programs, she said, and in 2015 donated a larger grant to provide the seed money so that Restoration Ministries could start an English as a Second Language program for the parents of youth program participants and community members.

FCC has funded the program for the last five years including 2020. The program is free and free babysitting is provided. Classes were taught by a certified ESL teacher and met three days a week in the mornings and evenings. The classes are now on hold due to the pandemic.

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