Today is the last day to donate to the Village of Romeoville's annual Operation Christmas effort, but it's not too late to help spread some holiday cheer. According to Rev. Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, donors have until the end of the day to drop off Operation Christmas items.
Since 2008, Anderson-Hurdle has organized the event for the village, helping fulfill the wish lists of families who otherwise wouldn't have any presents under the tree. Donors who choose to "adopt" a family facing a lean holiday are given a list of items to purchase for each family member.
This year, about 110 families registered to receive gifts.
"It's actually lower than last year," but not necessarily because the need has lessened, Anderson-Hurdle said. "I think it's because we increased the requirements."
To qualify as a recipient, families must live in Romeoville and be enrolled in the free- or reduced-price lunch program in a local school district. A new requirement is that they must also be enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
This year, Anderson-Hurdle said she made an exception for several families who don't exactly fit the criteria.
"We did have two homeless families that came to us," she said. "Those are exactly the families we want to help."
While money is tight for many area families, Anderson-Hurdle said community members continue to step up to the plate to help others.
"It's a good thing to pull the community together," she said. And the need continues to be great, despite the improving economy. "I think we've had a bad couple years," Anderson-Hurdle said.
The deadline for gift giving may have come and gone, but it's not too late to provide holiday meals for struggling families. Rick DePego, owner of Fat Ricky's, also known as The Original Old World Pizza of Elmwood Park, is hosting his second Hope for the Holidays event to help raise money and generate donations.
The event is scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, in the Spartan's Square parking lot at Route 53 and Phelps Avenue. "We actually put up a circus tent," DePego said. Families can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, live reindeer, hot chocolate and cider, arts and crafts and pictures with Santa.
Admission is free, but there is a catch. "Bring food and we'll let you in," DePego said. "That's the only thing we ask."
Donations will help Fat Ricky's provide boxes packed with holiday meals, including turkey or ham, stuffing, cake or brownie mix and canned vegetables.
Other items, such as peanut butter and non-perishable goods, also will be accepted. "It's actually a week's worth of rations, so it's more than just Christmas dinner," DePego said.
DePego created Hope for the Holidays last year after seeing the need in the community.
"I'm blessed to be in a position to give back," he said, adding that the effort is designed to help families no matter what they're celebrating this holiday season. "I don't care what religion or race (you are) … nobody should not be able to have a family meal around the holidays."
Patrons also can stop in at Fat Ricky's, 660 N. Independence Blvd., and purchase holiday cards for $1 or $5 to benefit Hope for the Holidays.
Last year, Hope for the Holidays fed 185 families. This season, DePego is aiming even higher after expanding the event to include Bolingbrook's Operation Christmas program. "My goal is to supply 250 meals," he said.
Operation Christmas gifts and pre-packaged holiday meals are scheduled to be distributed the week of Dec. 17.
"My mother and myself and a few of our retired parishioners do the distribution," Anderson-Hurdle said, adding that she works to protect the identity of recipients. "We try to be discreet."