Oak Park and River Forest Holiday Food and Gift Basket program needs sponsors

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

Organizers of this year's Holiday Food and Gift Basket program are again aiming to make the holiday season a little brighter for a couple thousand local residents, and, as of Monday, they're still looking for sponsors to purchase gifts for just over 500 people.

Patty Henek, who is the coordinator this year, said the program will serve about 910 households, which represents just under 2,200 people. That's a bit less than the 973 households the program served last year.

The program asks for sponsors, who are matched up to the eligible individuals and families all of whom are below a certain income level. Participants are referred to the program by social workers, Oak Park and River Forest townships, school districts and other agencies. The sponsors then use participants' "wish lists" to shop for gifts, which they wrap and drop off to the program in the first week of December, Henek said.

The program will also give Jewel gift cards to referred households before Thanksgiving, with the amount depending on the family size. Henek said the group is hoping more money will come in before they distribute the cards the week of Nov. 14. They are still about $8,000 shy of the $30,000 goal.

Henek said she's been happy to see the community support that comes out once people realize the need is there. She said she recently did a presentation at the Oak Park Women's Guild and got an email from someone afterwards telling her that she found several neighbors on her block who want to become sponsors.

"Once you get it out there, people just seem to be so happy to help," Henek said. Despite the response, Henek said the group worries every year that not enough money will come in. She said it's important not to just sit back and assume they'll get the same amount of contributions.

Valerie Woods, a former coordinator who continues to volunteer with the program, said she's also seen incredible generosity every year.

"A lot of people really wouldn't have a holiday without the support of our sponsors," she said. Those sponsors buy a variety of wish list gifts, from winter clothing to cleaning products and bus passes, Woods said.

To become a sponsor, email holidaybasket@hotmail.com or call 708-771-6159, ext. 244 and provide your name, street address, phone number and email address. Indicate the number of individuals you will sponsor and organizers will send the first names of participants, wish lists and gift drop-off information. Volunteers are also needed to deliver the gifts on Dec. 8 starting at 8 a.m. Checks for financial donations can be made out to Holiday Food and Gift Basket and mailed to P.O. Box 3365, Oak Park, IL 60303.

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