By Sheila Elliott
This year has been unlike any other, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, job loss, business closures, and financial and personal hardships, making life challenging for many. The holidays usually connote love and the richness of human connections; this year a “keep your distance” ethos is, ironically, driven by the same love of the common good.
Throughout it all, our local social service agencies and churches have continued their invaluable work, helping the most vulnerable even while they, too, adjusted to masks, social distancing, and working remotely. The need for their services never diminishes.
Gazette Chicago’s 36th annual Spirit of Giving guide lets our readers know about the needs out there and how to contact many of the agencies that meet them, honoring work that often is overlooked and providing contact sources for anyone wanting to provide or receive help.
In years past, that meant giving up personal time to volunteer; buying a toy; or donating food, clothing, or household goods. Because of the pandemic, many agencies are not making the same sort of requests this year; some still ask people to volunteer, but in a safe way during the pandemic. The guide is smaller than in previous years, as some organizations are unable to perform their usual activities.
As always, however, there are individuals in need, and you might be able to help.
At press time, these listings were accurate, but changes are happening on a daily basis due to the pandemic. Check websites or call for latest information.
The American Association of Retired Persons Experience Corps (AARP) continues ongoing efforts to recruit and prepare energetic volunteers for in-service work as tutors for children in kindergarten through third grade. Due to the current health concerns, the organization has suspended on-site work temporarily, but a new virtual and pilot training program for interested individuals is in the works. Anyone interested in volunteering time to this program in the future should call AARP at (312) 660-8662 or visit www.aarp.org.
Casa Central, 1343 N. California Ave., the largest Hispanic social service agency in the Midwest, accepts donations on a year-round basis and encourages anyone interested in contributing to visit the organization’s website to learn more about its programs including Holiday Magic, the Day-of-Hope program, or the agency’s annual gala fundraiser. Because of existing restrictions, however, it has suspended volunteer opportunities temporarily. Interested individuals may contact Casa Central by calling (773) 645-2300 or by visiting the website at www.casacentral.org.
Casa Maravilla, 2021 S. Morgan St., related to the Alivio Medical Center, seeks donations of smaller gifts that can become part of larger Christmas baskets given to older residents. Hats, scarves, gloves, scented candles, essential oils, stress balls, coffee mugs, coloring books, colored pencils, and Christmas ornaments are just some of the useful and cheerful items the organization seeks as its members work to prepare more than 120 individual baskets for area seniors. Financial donations also are welcome. Call (312) 743-0493 or log on to https://www.aliviomedicalcenter.org/programs/casa-maravilla.
Catholic Charities of Greater of Chicago, 721 N. LaSalle St., has modified its traditional holiday gift giving campaign this year due to health concerns. Anyone who enjoys the special feeling of giving at holiday time is encouraged to visit the website at www.catholiccharitieschicago.net/celebration, where you will find an online registry with a wide selection of the individual gifts requested and enjoy a sense of holiday generosity while remaining contact-free. Visit www.catholiccharities.net/ or call (312) 655-7700 to learn more.
Deborah’s Place, 2822 W. Jackson Blvd., has played a vital part for many years in helping women facing housing issues—not just assisting them in finding a safe, secure residence for themselves and their children but helping them get the linens, kitchenware, and myriad other items needed to make that address a comfortable home. The need for financial donations to continue their work continues throughout the year, including at holiday time. To help, contact Deborah’s Place at (773) 722-5080 or visit the website at www.deborahsplace.org.
Gads Hill Center, 1919 W. Cullerton St. creates opportunities through education, access to resources, and community engagement. It has launched an emergency relief fund for families requiring basic necessities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Call (312) 226-0963 or log on to gadshillcenter.org.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD), 4100 W. Ann Lurie Pl., has provided food for the needy for more than 40 years. The GCFD needs volunteers to support its coronavirus response effort, including food repacking sessions. The GCFD also sells face masks, with proceeds benefiting the hungry. Call (773) 247-3663 or log on to chicagosfoodbank.org.
Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn St., accepts donations of men’s clothing, toiletries, masks, and socks as well as funds to pay for boxed meals. Call (312) 912-1246 or log onto gracechicago.org.
Lakeside Bank ran a virtual food drive in April and May, collecting money and food to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository; it donated more than 13,000 meals and more than 16,000 pounds of food. For more about the bank’s future charitable plans, call (312) 435-5100.
The Leukemia Research Foundation welcomes donations to help fund cancer and blood disorder research. Call (847) 424-0600.
The elderly, particularly those 70 and older, face special challenges during the holidays, and Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly, 355 N. Ashland Ave., works to ease their circumstances by delivering nourishing meals to their homes. The organization provides the service not just at holiday time, but throughout the calendar year. Volunteers play a unique role in this work, especially at holiday time. This year, all deliveries will be contact-free and each volunteer must complete a virtual orientation session. The organization needs more volunteers and financial contributions to help make the program viable. For information about the program and training, contact Little Brothers at www.littlebrotherschicago.org or (312) 455-1000.
For decades, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, 1140 W. Jackson Blvd., has been an anchor helping some of the city’s youngest and most needy people by assuring they can count on the basics of food, clothing, and shelter as well as the education that enriches any child’s life. Mercy requests financial donations to ensure these services continue. This year, it put mentorship program and other volunteer-reliant efforts on hold temporarily; many of its other programs are offered virtually. Anyone who would like to help is invited to call (877) 637-2955 or visit the website at www.mercyhome.org to learn more.
Midtown Educational Foundation and Metro Achievement Center for Girls, 718 S. Loomis St., has year-round programs for young people from fourth grade through age twelve. The varied programs are possible, in part, from financial contributions and, when possible, volunteer participation. For more information visit www.midtown-metro.org or call (773) 292-2660.
Open Books provides books for children in need. If you buy a set of three-to-five children’s books at www.open-books.org/open-books-open-minds/, Open Books will provide the same number to Chicago youngsters who need books. The organization is at 651 W. Lake St. Call (312) 475-1355 x100.
Our Lady of the Holy Family, 1335 W. Harrison St., is sponsoring a food drive this holiday season with all contributions going to the University of Illinois Chicago Pop-Up Pantry. Drop off packaged, non-perishable food items at the rectory. Pop-Up Pantry and Christmas gift donations can be dropped off inside the church after the weekend Masses: Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 9 and 11 a.m. Wear a face mask and observe all social distancing regulations for this contact-free drop-off. Call (312) 243-7400 or log on to olhfchi.org.
The ReVive Center for Housing and Healing, 1668 W. Ogden Ave., has suspended accepting toy and food donations this year and needs financial donations in particular as the organization prepares for its annual holiday gift and delivery program. Some volunteer opportunities may be available including registering individuals interested in receiving gifts and handing out bags from early to mid-December. Participants must wear a mask and follow all recommended social distancing advisories. To learn more, go to www.revivecenter.org or call (312) 997-2222.
Rush University Medical Center, 1653 W. Harrison St., is accepting donations of new toys in their original packaging for children from infants up through teenagers throughout the holiday season. Rush also is accepting coronavirus-related items, such as new personal protective equipment and food. For additional information, call (312) 942-4054 or log on to www.rush.edu/news/rush-accepting-variety-donations-covid-19-response.
St. James Parish, 2907 S. Wabash Ave., will continue its food pantry program every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in December from 9 to 11:30 a.m.; it also plans to provide safe, contact-free, home delivery of healthful food or meals for senior citizens living in the 60605 and 60616 ZIP codes. On Christmas Day, the parish will provide a free holiday dinner for those without a warm, comfortable home to celebrate the day. Donations make all programs possible, and St. James welcomes gift cards, other types of financial contributions, donations of food products (canned cranberry sauce, potatoes, and stuffing mix in particular) for preparing holiday food baskets. Hygiene items (all sizes); new socks for adults; and gloves and hats are also welcome. Contact the parish at (312) 842-1919 or email email@example.com.
The soup kitchen at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, El Comedor Popular, 2108 W. 21st St., has provided thousands of warm, nutritious meals Tuesdays through Thursdays all year and will continue to do so during holiday time. The kitchen serves meals from noon until 1:30 p.m. Donations of canned goods and other nutritious food products are welcomed and can be taken to the church; please remember to wear a mask and observe all social distancing advisories. Financial donations also help make sure some of the area’s most vulnerable people enjoy a happy holiday season. Call (773) 847-6458.
St. Procopius-Providence of God Parish, 1641 S. Allport St., welcomes clothing and toy donations suitable as children’s Christmas gifts. Organizers ask that the gifts, if wrapped, include visible information about the gender and age group most likely to enjoy the donation; be sure to remove price tags. The parish also runs a soup kitchen every Tuesday. Masks and social distancing required. Call (312) 226-7887 for further information.
Through the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, give joy to a child, teen, senior, or family in need by donating a gift from a virtual Angel Tree through Tuesday, Dec. 15. Log on to centralusa.salvationarmy.org or call (773) 205-3690
Santa Maria Addoloratta, 525 N. Ada St., accepts donations of non-perishable food items for distribution in the community during the holiday season and throughout the calendar year. Bring donated food items to the parish rectory, 528 N. Ada St., on Fridays. The church also accepts new or gently used gloves, scarves, hats, and face-warmers for all age groups and genders. In a departure from previous years, however, Santa Maria Addoloratta will not accept toys, items for food baskets, or other types of gifts this holiday season. Anyone making a donation must wear a face mask and observe all social distancing advisories. Call (312) 421-3122.
Donations of warm clothing are welcome for the Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago’s winter coat drive, which continues throughout December at 1936 S. Michigan Ave. Sweatshirts, hoodies, sweaters, gloves, scarves, mittens, and caps are needed to help clients stay warm and protected during the city’s harshest weather months. Leave very gently used or new items at the church’s drop-off site on Tuesday through Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Second Presbyterian also operates Barbara’s Basement Resale Shop, stocked with affordable new and used jewelry, tableware, and other items. Visit the shop on Tuesdays through Fridays, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. To learn more, call (312) 225-4951 or go to www.2ndpresbyterian.org.
The U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program has gone virtual, with participants asked to shop for, select, and donate a toy online through a virtual toy box. Log on to toysfortots.org.
The United States Postal Service runs Operation Santa, in which individuals and organizations can send responses to letters the Postal Service receives addressed to Santa. For the first time, the program will be digital: individuals and businesses wishing to play Santa can go online beginning Saturday, Dec. 5, to choose a wish list to adopt. The Postal Service is posting letters, minus personally identifiable information, on USPSOperationSanta.com. Children may send their wish letters to Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888. For more information, log on to https://about.usps.com/holidaynews/operation-santa.htm.
Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, 820 S. Damen Ave., seeks volunteers to work with veterans. Phone (312) 569-6109 or visit www.chicago.va.gov/giving/. The veterans’ crisis line is (800) 273-8255.