With holiday decorations and cheer abounding on Oak Park’s busiest streets, it’s easy to miss the small, twinkling lights tucked away on a quiet stretch of North Boulevard just west of Kenilworth Avenue. These lights adorn the trees in front of Hephzibah Children Association’s group home, and the tranquility outside this iconic building belies the bustling activity inside.
Each year, the home’s conference room is magically transformed into Santa’s Workshop, where toys from generous donors arrive daily and are wrapped by Hephzibah staff and volunteers. Kids at the home anxiously remind the two staff members who have been entrusted with Santa’s cellphone number to “tell him I’ve been good today!” All of the kids get new pajamas on Dec. 24, and on Christmas morning they race into the home’s largest room to find piles of presents that match their holiday wish lists. Once the entire floor of the room is obscured by torn and crumpled wrapping paper, everyone is treated to a large holiday dinner.
Holiday activities for kids in Hephzibah’s care aren’t limited to the confines of the home. There’s also ice skating in downtown Chicago, Cookies and Cocoa with Santa at the Nineteenth Century Club, holiday sing-alongs, a party at The Carleton, an elegant lunch at The Peninsula with Mrs. Claus, and a short trip up to the Metra platform to see the Christmas train, all of which help to make the season merry and bright.
Hephzibah’s foster and intact families also participate in holiday festivities and benefit from donors’ generosity at this time of year. There are holiday parties with Santa, many gifts, and in some cases, donations of brand-new full winter wardrobes, from hats to boots and parkas to long johns.
Of course, all of this is made possible by the unfailing support of our community. The kids’ gifts come from donors visiting Hephzibah’s online Holiday Wish List, the group home holiday meal is provided by the family of a former Hephzibah board member, and the “Angel Shopping” that supplies winter wardrobes to struggling intact families is made possible by a former Hephzibah resident who went on to become highly successful in his adult life.
In addition, the many other donations that come through multiple channels, even small ones such as cash donation boxes placed at supportive local businesses, such as Careful Peach Boutique and Two Story Farmhouse, are especially indispensable to Hephzibah’s efforts to ensure that all of its children and families have a happy holiday.
So as you pass by the 900 block of North Boulevard, whether in your car, on the el, on the Metra, or just on foot, keep an eye out for those twinkling lights that signal holiday cheer for Hephzibah’s children and families.
Beth Cannon grew up in Oak Park and is currently a member of Hephzibah’s Oak Park Auxiliary Board. Anyone interested in donating to Hephzibah should visit the organization’s web site at: https://www.hephzibahhome.org.