The Oak Park Holiday Food and Gift Basket has hit some hard times.
The volunteer organization is on hiatus this summer and normally doesn’t start collecting referrals until the fall. Like a lot of nonprofit organizations, the gift basket program has been suffering from the downturn in the economy and funders becoming more limited in their giving. The program lost a major funder this year for that very reason, which was explained in a letter from the organization that went out earlier this summer to supporters.
But Valerie Woods, one of the coordinators for the program, says the organization is not going away. The program provides gifts and food certificates to low-income residents and seniors at the holidays. Last year, it served more than 900 referrals, which come through Oak Park and River Forest Townships and other sources. The program is still a vital source, something Woods wants clients and its partner organizations to know.
“We work with schools in Oak Park, churches and other organizations,” she said. “The economy is making it more challenging to raise money.”
The organization hosts fundraisers and tries to get the word out about its services through various means. The program uses social networking sites like Facebook to spread the word about its mission and to seek those interested in helping. But it still uses old-fashioned, traditional methods like fliers and notices posted at churches and organizations in Oak Park and River Forest. Woods, whose professional background is in public relations, said it’s important to use various methods to reach out.
She added that the program is feeling the effects of the economy from both sides-those needing additional assistance yet fewer people able to donate money to help. Woods is one of three volunteer coordinators who oversee the program-the other two are Marcia Alpert and Jane Welter. The rest of its workers are volunteers numbering in the hundreds, Woods said. She’s been a coordinator for three years and has volunteered with the program for six.
Though the program has been around for more than 30 years, there are still a handful of people in the area, perhaps new arrivals to the two villages, who aren’t aware of it, Woods acknowledged. But she noted that the organization has partnered with such entities as the Hephzibah, and Youth Services of Oak Park and River Forest Townships over the years. The program has individuals, groups and businesses sponsor families needing help-all good selling points for the program. She insisted that the organization will get through this tough time and continue helping those in need. But as noted in their letter,
“There are certainly people in both villages who don’t know about the program. That’s where we try to get the word out,” Woods said.