While COVID-19 has prevented New Moms from holding its annual holiday parties, program participants will still have a holly, jolly Christmas, thanks to River Forest resident Carey Palmer and other volunteers. 

“I think they’re going to have a good Christmas, in light of all the generosity that our community has poured out,” said Jenna Hammond, New Moms director of development and communications. 

The organization, which has facilities in Oak Park and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, helps young mothers experiencing poverty and homelessness by providing housing, family support and job training.

In years past, New Moms held Christmas parties for the families in the program. Santa came to pose for pictures, while kids, with their moms, decorated cookies baked by Palmer.

“She was not going to let that fall away this year,” said Hammond.

To keep the tradition alive, Palmer made cookie-decorating kits, which were distributed to New Moms families, with four homemade sugar cookies, store-bought icing, Hershey Kisses, and different kinds of sprinkles. In total, Palmer made and delivered 118 individual kits. 

“Everyone was thrilled,” Palmer told Wednesday Journal.

It was a big undertaking to make that many, so she multitasked, chipping away at the project while working from home.

“I would be on conference calls and in the background, while I’m on mute, I’d be filling packets of sprinkles or rolling out my dough,” said Palmer. 

Her 5-year-old son Calvin helped stamp the tags on the kits. A friend of Palmer’s lent a hand as well, coming over one day to help assemble the kits. 

Palmer’s 2-year-old daughter, Ruby, and Calvin served as their mom’s quality assurance team, testing one of the kits.

“I used one at my house with my kids,” said Palmer. “They were eating humongous cookies with frosting and sprinkles on it, bouncing off the walls.”

Now an associate board member at New Moms, Palmer began volunteering with the nonprofit after becoming a mother herself.

“I had this realization after having my first child of how privileged I was,” she said. 

Palmer had a home, resources, stable finances and friends and family nearby to help, but raising a baby was still challenging.

“It just made me think about people in different situations,” she said.

Palmer misses not having an actual New Moms Christmas Party this year but feels glad the families will have the opportunity to spend time together, creating Christmas memories as they decorate.

“Hopefully we’ll all be back in person next year,” said Palmer.

A significant part of the New Moms Christmas Party was the gift shop, where mothers in the program could choose from an array of donated toys and other items, then wrap them as gifts to give their children on Christmas morning. 

To ensure each of the families have presents under the tree this year, New Moms had to switch gears.

“We changed the name this year to Operation Santa because of having to shift it all around,” said Hammond. 

Each mom made a wish list on Amazon, which allowed them the agency and autonomy to choose gifts best suited to the needs, personalities and interests of their families, according to Hammond. Donors then purchased the gifts. 

“This year, we received over 1,500 gifts, which was the most ever that we have received from our generous donors,” she said.

With substantial donations, New Moms was able to put together family gift bags for 93 mothers and 132 children, delivered by volunteers and staff. 

“At New Moms, we talk a lot about how hard this year has been,” said Hammond, “but also, how encouraged we are by how the community and our supporters have really stood around our families. And that’s really powerful to see.”

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