Catholic Charities’ Christmas toy drive in its 75th year

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Catholic Charities’ Christmas toy drive in its 75th year

Volunteers sort and pack toys during the 75th annual Catholic Charities Celebration of Giving at a commercial space in New City Mall on Dec. 9, 2022. This season the organization is short gifts for 2,000 children. The biggest need is toys and items and gift cards for older children. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mary Ellen Brabec fills an order of toys for a client. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Shelves await more toys. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteer Joe Hohein fills a request from a client. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Shelves await more toys. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jovita Pacheco gets toys ready to be sent to a family in need. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteer Eileen D’Amico sorts through toys. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
From left, Lorenzo Silva, Jack Wilhelm, Nico Silva and Oscar Malloy from Francis Xavier Ward School work with John Bradshaw in loading a truck full of gifts at the loading dock. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For 75 years, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has collected toys for children in need for Christmas, and this year’s Celebration of Giving is no different.

With sugar cookies on the break table and Christmas carols playing in the background, volunteers gathered in an empty commercial space at New City Shopping Center, 1457 N. Halsted Ave., on Dec. 9, filling requests made by caseworkers throughout Cook County.

Volunteers sorted toys by age group and gender on racks, then shopped those racks using requests from Catholic Charities case managers working in Cook County. (Catholic Charities in Lake County held its own toy drive.)

Volunteers then organized the collected gifts into groups to be delivered to various Catholic Charities service locations.

About 15,000 children, youth and families receive gifts from Catholic Charities every year.

Each child receives two gifts, said Melissa Lucas, director of volunteer engagement for Catholic Charities. Older children, who can be more difficult to buy for, might receive gift cards.

Donors could give toys of their choice, choose to provide toys from wish lists or sponsor families.

The Celebration of Giving begins around Thanksgiving each year. This year, as of Dec. 9, Catholic Charities still needed toys for about 2,000 children, so it extended its collection until Dec. 16.

“Every toy counts. I just know how meaningful it is to our clients, to our program managers who are working directly with the clients and who see the need and who want to come through for them,” Lucas said.

“I am blown away by the generosity, even in our shortages right now for toys, I’m still blown away by people’s generosity and just the work that goes into this. This is the work of many volunteers who spend their days with us,” she said. “I see how enlightening it is for them too. It’s just that perfect combination of goodness.”

Joe Hohein has volunteered with the toy drive for 23 years and is in charge of managing order fulfillment. He also volunteers Tuesdays at Catholic Charities’ dinner for those in need at 721 N. LaSalle St.

“I’m trying to do something for someone else who is much less fortunate than myself,” Hohein said. “It makes me think about what the Lord said, ‘If you’ve done it for the least of my brethren you’ve done it for me.’ That’s what Catholic Charities is all about.”

Catholic Charities is a place that lives the Gospel message, he said.

“Look at how quick they sprang into action when people got bused up from Texas. They welcomed them with open arms and very humanely. That’s how Catholic Charities is. When someone is really down and out, Catholic Charities just jumps in and helps them any way they can,” Hohein said. “I’m just trying to do my part.”

During the toy drive, he arrived at the warehouse at 8 a.m. every day to help.

“It’s something that I look forward to, and I’m glad when it’s over because you really get worn out,” he said.

Eileen D’Amico also is a long-time volunteer with Catholic Charities and the Celebration of Giving.

“I just love the whole idea,” she said.

She enjoys hearing feedback from the case workers about how much the gifts mean to the families receiving them.

“It’s just, in the end, all the effort and all the work is just worth it. Definitely,” she said. “It’s just nice to know that the kids have something under the tree.”

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