Volunteering your time or money is an excellent way to look beyond yourself and help others in need. Meet some folks in our region who’ve found meaningful ways of serving their neighbors, and learn how you can join them in brightening someone else’s Christmas Cheer.
Volunteering your time is a perfect way to bring hope, love and joy to those less fortunate this holiday season. Whether it’s donating time and money, handing out hot meals on Thanksgiving or ringing a bell outside a department store, people right here in our region have a long tradition of generosity, especially during the holiday season.
Volunteerism is also a wonderful way to meet friends who share similar interests and it’s a great way to learn something new. With budget cuts and dwindling resources affecting many area nonprofits, organizations today rely on volunteers more heavily than ever before.
Here are three ways the Christmas spirit is alive and well in northwest Chicagoland.
Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Barrington
This congregation and its many friends know how to celebrate Thanksgiving in style. For the 12th year now, dozens of volunteers will wake up early on Turkey Day to prepare, cook and serve a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner for hundreds of people who are alone, homeless or looking for a new place to fellowship.
A fixture in Barrington, this church at 647 Dundee Ave. was founded in 1948 and its members have celebrated a long history of generosity.
“Volunteering has never been a problem for us,” says Nancy Holmes, a parishioner at the church. “People always want to know how they can help out.”
While volunteers help with the setup and food preparation, the church relies on local donors to provide 95 percent of the food, including dozens of turkeys.
The idea for this dinner came from Catherine Deevy, a church parishioner and a former restaurant owner in Barrington.
“The first year or two, we started out with more volunteers than we had guests,” Holmes says. “In the years since, it’s grown like crazy.”
At 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, dedicated volunteers begin peeling, slicing and preparing the home-cooked meal, which includes the traditional lineup of roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberries, rolls and dessert. Lots, and lots of dessert.
“One year, we had 80 pies,” Holmes says with a laugh. “As families were leaving the church, we were giving them pies to take home.”
The dinner is held at the church and served promptly at noon. Other than the turkeys, which are cooked at home by volunteers, the meal is prepared at the church. More than 200 people file into the church’s community room, which has circular tables decorated with donated white linen tablecloths and napkins.
“We have it look like a dining hall,” Holmes says. “It’s a seated meal, so people don’t have to get up to get their food. It’s like going to a restaurant, but the meal is free. The more people we can have so they’re not alone, the better.”
The dinner is free of charge and open to everyone – whether or not you’re a member of the church. St. Michael’s parishioners, local families and anyone from the community who wants a free meal attends the annual dinner. The church also welcomes recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Station, in Great Lakes. Since they’ll be unable to spend time with their families, they can still enjoy a warm holiday meal, and they’ll also have access to computers and phones to connect with their loved ones back home.
Before dinner is served, the food is blessed by one of the church pastors, and students from nearby Barrington High School sing the national anthem. Musical entertainment during the meal is provided by Premium Blend, an all-girls a capella group from Barrington High School, and the Gabis Family Trio, comprised of three teens who are members of the church.
“They volunteer their time and talent,” Holmes says.
To continue with Thanksgiving traditions, NFL football games will be running on a 9-foot-by-12-foot screen.
The dinner would not be possible without the help of volunteers like Kimberly and Dave Beal of Port Barrington. They wanted to donate their time and energy to those who need it most.
The couple, who have participated in the dinner for eight years, aren’t members of St. Michael’s, but they’ve become a familiar part of this holiday family. They see their service as a valuable way of giving back to the community. Dave has been a chef for 50 years, so he fits right in. He’s in charge of carving the turkeys.
“We carve somewhere around 25 turkeys,” Kimberly says. “He carves the turkey and I break it down in either white or dark meat. I pretty much just do what they need for the duration of the day.”
As long as people continue to show up, the Beals plan to continue helping.
“You’re treated like the family you want to see and spend time with on Thanksgiving,” Kimberly says. “It’s not like you’re at a charity event. It feels like you’re with a big family and everyone is having a good time. The best part is that you leave feeling good about what you’ve done.”
Reservations are required. If you plan to attend, call the church at (847) 381-2323.
Salvation Army: More Than Just Bell Ringing
When you think about the Salvation Army, you instantly think about the volunteers who stand outside of stores ringing bells and directing you to that red kettle around the holidays.
However, there are plenty of other ways to get involved with this charitable organization, especially during the holiday season.
“I think people should follow their hearts when they volunteer and look at causes that speak to their hearts,” says Jeff Pal, volunteers and community relations manager at the Salvation Army of McHenry County, 290 W. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake. “Specifically for us, we couldn’t do what we do for the families of McHenry County without the donations and volunteerism that happens within this county. People want to give back and help those who may be less fortunate.”
The Salvation Army, founded in 1865, is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God and a practical concern for the needs of humanity.
The Salvation Army provides social services to individuals and families who find themselves without basic necessities for survival. Services include a food pantry, utility assistance, domestic violence help, and employment and crisis resources.
Judy Seredick has been volunteering with the Salvation Army for 13 years. From preparing backpacks full of school supplies to interviewing clients, Seredick has done a lot of volunteering for the Salvation Army. In fact, she’s volunteered so much that she’s been given her own office.
“I enjoy volunteering, and this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Seredick, a retired bus driver. “I enjoy doing it and I feel like I’m getting something accomplished.”
Seredick has also put in time volunteering for the annual Thanksgiving Dinner, scheduled this year for Nov. 22 at the Salvation Army’s Crystal Lake location. Food is catered in and served to needy families by a cadre of staff and volunteers.
“The volunteers love doing that,” Seredick says. “I really appreciate helping them because there’s always something to do.”
An easy way to volunteer this holiday season is through the Salvation Army Angel Tree Toy Drive, which provides new toys for the children of needy local families. Beginning in November, Angel trees will be decorated with numbered paper angel tags, each bearing the gender and age range of a child and a specific or general gift need.
Contributors remove one or more tags from the tree and purchase gifts for the child or children described on the tags.
Companies and organizations in McHenry County display angel trees, and community members place unwrapped gifts by the tree. Whether you’re an individual, family, organization, church, business or club, you can help make a difference by accepting any number of Angel Tree tags from the Salvation Army. Angel Trees can be found all over the county, including Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin, City of McHenry Municipal Building and McHenry Savings Bank in McHenry.
And, of course, there’s the Christmas Kettle Program, which begins Nov. 10 this year. With more than 50 bell-ringing locations in McHenry County, the Salvation Army is dependent on the generosity of community members, churches, service organizations, schools and businesses to devote their time bell-ringing for a few short hours each day. Volunteers are always needed.
Last year, 1,500 bell-ringing volunteers raised $213,000 for the Salvation Army of McHenry County during the six-week campaign. This year’s goal will be similar.
“That is actually our most critical need right now,” Pal says.
Any money raised in McHenry County stays locally to help needy families throughout the year. The money from the bell ringing campaign is also vital to the social and community services the Salvation Army provides.
For more information, call (815) 455-2769.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA): Because Foster Children Also Need Help
Every day, abused and neglected children in Kane County are placed in temporary foster care because their parents can’t, won’t, or don’t know how to take care of them. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Kane County gives these kids a voice in court so they have the opportunity to grow up in safe and permanent homes.
CASA Kane County, of 100 S. Third St., Geneva, is one of more than 1,000 national CASA programs that advocates for abused and neglected children within the court system.
CASA volunteers are appointed as Guardians ad Litem (GAL) for children under 21 who are in the foster system. These volunteers act as the eyes and ears of the judge by documenting each child’s circumstances and making recommendations for services. The ultimate goal of the CASA/GAL is to help ensure every child receives services that are needed and that the child is placed in a safe and permanent home in the least amount of time. This could mean a reunion with their parents, guardianship, independence (if the child is older) or adoption by a foster family.
“There are many ways you can get involved with CASA,” says Julie Hipp, development and marketing manager for CASA Kane County. “You can connect to us and keep up on what’s happening, you can become a volunteer or you can donate. It’s a good opportunity to give back at this time of year.”
Before a volunteer can accept a case, he or she must complete 45 hours of training provided by the CASA Kane County office. The training includes classroom attendance, guest speakers, a training manual, online resources, report-writing practice and court observation.
Among other things, the training curriculum covers the role of the CASA/GAL, cultural diversity, family issues, child abuse and neglect, mental illness, poverty and substance abuse.
If you don’t have the time to get involved as a volunteer, individuals can set up a collection through CASA’s gift/gas card, suitcase and incidental program. It’s another part of the organization’s mission to help provide the children with transportation, recreational activities and other basic items that are needed but often taken for granted.
Gift cards are used to purchase items like mattresses or winter coats; bus passes for school, work or visits to a friend or loved one; and summer camps or other park district-type activities. Gas cards help CASA volunteers who are traveling long distances to visit their children.
“This initiative is another angle to allow anyone to give gift cards or gas cards so we as an organization can buy children basic items and give them opportunities they should have as kids,” Hipp says.
For more information or to volunteer, call (630) 232-4484.
Many Ways to Help
Volunteerism is more than just helping those who are less fortunate. It’s an opportunity to meet people and a way to leave your mark on the community. The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Chicagoland. If you’ve been thinking about volunteering, now is a perfect time to take the leap and help someone who is less fortunate.