In the lobby of the First United Church of Oak Park stands a two-foot Christmas tree that gets decorated with construction paper ornaments every holiday season. The church is one of many community organizations that support the Holiday Food and Gift Basket program.
The United Church’s program director for sponsoring families and individuals, Sher Watts Spooner from Oak Park, an editor for a medical news publication, described the Christmas tree in the lobby as a “Charlie Brown tree.” Just like the Charlie Brown tree, it brings the community together.
“People are always willing to volunteer, they like to do it,” Spooner said. “We’ve had some incredible generosity throughout the years.”
Spooner said about 100 different individuals have been sponsored through First United for each of the last 10 years.
“What I do is organize it into a list and make individual paper ornaments into different Christmas shapes: trees, stars, that sort of thing,” Spooner explained. “I will write people’s names on them, their age, gender, sizes and suggestions of items they have asked for,” she added. Sponsors are picked out in the middle of November every year.
Some people take two or three ornaments, Spooner said, which results in black garbage bags being filled with Christmas presents that end up piled high in storage rooms until being delivered in December.
“It’s nice to see everyone in the church and the whole community taking part in this kind of thing that can really help people,” Spooner said.
Teri Omert, a nurse and mother of one from Oak Park, has been giving for the last five years. Omert said the Holiday Food and Gift Basket program is a chance to give back to the community.
“It’s that time of year for giving and I always feel so lucky that we have as much as we do,” she said, adding that her 9-year-old daughter enjoys shopping for gifts for children they sponsor.
Omert recalls her experience two years ago, which involved giving a doll house to a 7-year-old child in the family they had sponsored.
However, the dollhouse was not store bought, it was refurnished and overhauled within three weeks, which included replacing part of the roof, adding some new interior pieces, such as furniture and gluing and painting other parts, Omert said.
“My daughter helped me pick out materials and rug samples from thrift stores for the floors,” she added.