COVID-19 doesn’t stop Catholic Charities toy drive at basilica

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

COVID-19 doesn’t stop Catholic Charities toy drive at basilica

Parishioners and students from Queen of All Saints Basilica Parish and School sort toys and clothing dropped off by parishioners during the parish’s “Santa’s Drive Thru for Sharing” event on Dec. 13, 2020. The event was a modification of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s annual “Shared Christmas” drive and included socially distanced photos with Santa. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A child looks out the car window at Santa. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Santa, played by Jeff Carlson, greets children from a distance. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Santa, played by Jeff Carlson, greets a child from a distance. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Simone Abbasi and Ava Swanson pack up toys with their fellow classmates. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ellen Gundlach and Simone Abbasi, both eighth graders, sort donated toys. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Seventh grader Bridget Smith, dressed as a Christmas tree, greets people in a car. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For over 20 years, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Queen of All Saints Basilica Parish, 6280 N. Sauganash Ave., has held its “Shared Christmas” program to collect toys, clothing and sundries during Advent for clients of Catholic Charities and other organizations in Chicago. The group would put tags on giving trees in the church with specific names and needs for parishioners to take home and purchase items to donate.

COVID-19 changed all that, so the group turned the event into a general toy and clothing drive-thru collection held outside the church on Dec. 13. The St. Vincent de Paul Society partnered with the school’s parent association on the event, and the Women’s Auxiliary provided socially distanced photos with Santa.

The atmosphere outside the church was festive, with Christmas music playing and seventh and eighth graders decked in holiday attire and Santa hats collecting items from cars as people drove up, thanking the occupants of each car for their donation.

Garland made of 550 paper stockings decorated by students from the school lined the fences around the church and parking lot. Santa, played by Jeff Carlson, sat on the church steps surrounded by colorful wrapped packages while a photographer took photos of children with him, at a proper distance.

“We are very glad we are able to do this. St. Vincent de Paul, Queen of All Saints Parents Association and our Women’s Auxiliary all came together,” said Father Simon Braganza, pastor. “We are blessed in many ways and it’s only our desire to share and to bring happiness into the lives of people around us that is driving our people here.”

David Kennedy of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society said that the toy and clothing drive had a three-pronged approach.

“We set up this drive-by drop off for gifts. There is also a direct link to Catholic Charities, so people could order directly there, and we’re also collecting gift cards or any monetary donations people would like to contribute,” he said.

Even though members of the society were disappointed not to be able to have the giving trees, they never thought of not doing a drive.

“The need doesn’t go away,” Kennedy said. “In fact, it’s probably greater. That’s our mandate, our motivation. We know that the need is going to be even more important this year than in other years. We could never do any of this if we didn’t have the generosity of our parishioners and donors. That’s really what it is.”

Laurie Vlasic, president of the parent association, agreed.

“We are very, very lucky,” Vlasic said. “Our community is phenomenal, so generous and willing to give but, as the adults enjoy doing that as they can, for the kids to feel that same feeling of ‘How can I help?’ … Knowing that people are having a tough time and things aren’t as festive as they normally are this time of year, to be able to do this and come here and smile and make somebody feel good while doing something for those in need on the other end of it, it’s what we’re trying to instill in our children here too.”

Like all parishes and schools, Queen of All Saints is adjusting to conditions imposed by the pandemic.

“We’ve got to adapt to the times and what’s going on and still be able to think outside the box and figure out what we can do to keep on doing what we do and that’s to give and to care about people in our community and our city,” Vlasic said.

Marie Jochum, Catholic Charities’ director of board relations and volunteer engagement, was on hand at the event to collect the toys donated to the agency’s 72nd annual toy drive.

She said that staff at Catholic Charities has been “overwhelmed” by the generosity of people giving to the agency’s toy drive this year, including those from longtime partners like Queen of All Saints Basilica Parish.

“Really, this year even more than other years, our families are in even greater need,” Jochum said. “[The parish] is normally able to sponsor families, but they’ve been really creative and I think that creativity of bringing people out in a difficult time has just been beautiful.”


  • catholic charities
  • christmas
  • covid-19

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