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It's that time of year, when families facing tough challenges need help making the holidays special.
Each year since the 1970s, the Holiday Food and Gift Basket Program has been providing gifts to families, seniors and individuals in need. Last month, volunteer organizers sent a letter to past supporters, asking them to contribute again to this year's program.
Contributors are asked to "sponsor" a person or family by buying them holiday gifts off their wish list. Most can't afford presents for loved ones, and for them the program can mean the world, said Valerie Woods, a coordinator for the program.
"For a lot of people, this is the only way that they are able to make a holiday special," she said. "Really, I think this is life-changing for many people."
Last year the program, which is run by the Oak Park River Forest Community of Congregations, supported 958 households. With the poor economy, that numbered has swelled to 973, which represents more than 2,000 people.
To be eligible for the gift basket program, you must be at or below a certain income level (for example, $20,036 for a single or $47,712 for a family of five). Candidates are referred by schools, social service agencies and the townships. The majority of recipients are from Oak Park and River Forest, while a few live outside the community but attend churches here.
The Holiday Food and Gift Basket program is also asking for monetary donations to help defray the costs of food gift certificates, which it provides to families each November.
The economy has affected the gift drive in two challenging ways, said Woods. More families are struggling and in need of support, but sponsors are also hurting and less able to give. For example, some sponsors this year are supporting smaller families or fewer individuals.
As of Monday 60 households still need to be supported. There is particular need for sponsors for singles and families with older children. Gift drop offs start on Dec. 4, and volunteers will start delivering the presents Dec. 11.