Holiday Food and Gift Basket, a program of the Community of Congregations, has been a beloved tradition in Oak Park and River Forest since the 1970s. Every year we provide grocery gift cards in November and holiday gifts in December to families that have been referred to us by organizations across the community, including schools, townships, and social service agencies such as the Infant Welfare Society Children’s Clinic, Housing Forward, and New Moms.

All participants must meet financial eligibility guidelines by having income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, set by the Department of Health and Human Services. For instance in 2023, a family of four qualifies for our program with an income at or below $55,500. This year, 773 families have been referred to us. They range in size from individuals to a family of 12.

Our support of these families is two-pronged. Each individual or family will receive a Jewel gift card within the next few weeks that varies from $35 to $80 depending on the family size. We hope that these gift cards will help offset Thanksgiving grocery expenses and provide a more enjoyable holiday.

We also match families with sponsors who shop for gifts off a provided wish list, wrap the gifts, and deliver them to us at United Lutheran Church, beginning Dec. 4. Then on Saturday, Dec. 9, volunteers will load up their cars with the wrapped gifts and spread holiday joy throughout our community.

Last year, Wednesday Journal editorialized that Holiday Food and Gift Basket “is honestly one of our favorite charitable projects of the year for Oak Park and River Forest. The program connects in so many community-affirming ways.”

Here is your opportunity to be a part of this “community-affirming” program. We are looking for people willing to do three things:

1. Sponsor – Purchase gifts for an individual or family.

2. Donate – Help pay for grocery gift cards.

3. Volunteer – Sign up to deliver holiday gifts on Saturday, Dec. 9.

While my family has been a longtime sponsor of the program (my children, who are now 19 and 16, can’t remember a holiday when we haven’t gone shopping for another family), this is my first year as director of Holiday Food and Gift Basket. And I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people in our community who give so freely of themselves.

Just this week a woman asked to sponsor four families of six people. That’s 24 people! She divides the names between her office and her family. And a man emailed me that he was making a $5,000 donation to help pay for the Jewel gift cards that our families will receive. And then there’s the woman who has been delivering gifts to Mills Park Tower in Oak Park for 38 years! It’s a tradition that she began with her father in 1985 and has continued with her teenage son.

Because I am the only paid employee of the program, none of this would be possible without the many volunteers who help with entering data, matching sponsors with families, and stuffing envelopes. These are sometimes thankless tasks, but I couldn’t be more grateful for their help.

And now I’m asking for your help too. As of this writing, we still have hundreds of families who need sponsors (many of whom only want gift cards, which makes for an easy shopping trip) and we are still $20,000 short of our fundraising goal.

Someone recently said to me, “People want to help. They just need to know how to do so.” I have the answer. Please visit our website at for details on how to sponsor, donate, or volunteer.

Thank you on behalf of Holiday Food and Gift Basket and our neighbors in need.

Kelly Pollock is director of the Holiday Food and Gift Basket Program.

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