From volunteers to donations, the need for help throughout McHenry County this holiday season couldn’t be stronger.
Dealing with the fall-out of the poor economy, some area non-profit agencies aren’t quite sure what to expect this holiday season. But they’ll take what they can get.
“We’re bracing ourselves for anything this winter,” says Kara Plonczynski, volunteer coordinator for McHenry County Animal Control.
Where to start
If you’re looking to help in any way, your best bet is to turn to the United Way of Greater McHerny County Volunteer Center.
The center tracks the needs of non-profit organizations and keeps an online wish list at www.volunteer.mchenrycounty.org or you can call 815-344-GIVE.
Of course, area food pantries, such as FISH of McHenry, are always in need of food donations.
For other agencies, the lists are detailed with items, such as the notebook paper, envelopes, glue and other office supplies needed at Garden Quarter Resource Center in McHenry. The
center provides a place for children to receive help with homework, learn life skills and take part in various recreational opportunities.
The needs at several agencies, such as Turning Point domestic violence agency in Woodstock, are less detailed.
From gift cards...
“What we really need are gift cards,” Executive Director Jane Farmer says.
The agency relies on food drives and such for non-perishable items, but Wal-Mart and Jewel cards allow clients to pick up fresh produce, bread, meat and milk, she says.
And gas cards help them access other services throughout the county.
“We have such limited transportation out here,” Farmer says.
Don’t have the financial means to donate money, how about a used coat?
As part of the Rotary Club of Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers Coat-A-Kid program, coats will be distributed to needy families this month.
The Rotary Club works with area schools, encouraging students and their families to collect the coats, along with caps, gloves and snow pants, and place them in boxes in their lobbies.
The donations then are given to families through distribution days scheduled at the Algonquin Township Office, located on Route 14 in Crystal Lake. Coats can be dropped off at the office as well.
She said in years past, the donation boxes have overflowed with coats and other winter clothing, some with tags still in place.
“Especially in these economic times, we need to take care of our own,” club president Sue Dobbe says. “It’s so gratifying to see the kindness demonstrated for our school children.”
To kitty litter...
As for Animal Control’s wish list, dog and cat foods as well as kitty litter are at the top.
Working with a coalition of the county’s various animal shelters, the food will either be dispersed to families in need who visit the agency or taken to food pantries where it can be distributed as well, Plonczynski says.
“With everybody struggling, they’re struggling to feed and keep their pets,” Plonczynski says. “We’re trying to help them keep them as well.”
The shelter for dogs and cats is more full than it’s been in a long time, she says. And even though winter’s typically a slow time, she’s not expecting things to slow down any time soon.
“Nothing seems typical anymore for us because of the economy,” she says.
Like most agencies, volunteers are in demand year-round, not just during the holidays.
At Animal Control, they’re needed both to help collect and distribute the food as well as to walk and play with the animals.
“Any time we can get these animals out and socialized, that’s a good thing,” Plonscznski says.
For more information on volunteering, call Plonczynski at 815-334-4946.
McHenry County PADS is looking for volunteers for its 3 to 7 a.m. shifts especially, says Debbie DeGraw, director of marketing and development for the agency.
PADS oversees the shelter of homeless at rotating churches throughout the county as well as a transitional shelter and day center for the homeless.
The agency’s hosting a county-wide “sleep-out” this April to allow people to experience homelessness firsthand, and is looking for volunteers to get involved in the event’s planning process.
As for donations, the agency always can use plastic twin-size bedliners, blankets, underwear, socks, T-shirts, canned goods, paper products, coffee, creamer, sugar, cough drops, razors and shaving cream.
Like Turning Point, gift cards are always a plus, DeGraw says.
PADS has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of homeless this year with almost 457 people needing shelter, she says.
“We do tend to get overload (with volunteers) during the holidays,” she says. “When the holidays are over, we still need help.”
Sidebar: Local charity fills a necessary gap in giving
A mother and a 2-year-old visited a food pantry one day.
As the mother picked out food, the Rev. Jim Swarthout of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in McHenry held the baby.
Swarthout suggested that the child could use a new diaper.
“Father Jim,” the mother responded. “I can only afford two diapers a day. I clean it out and put it back on him.”
For some, this would be an unfortunate story to tell about a situation all too many families face these days.
Maybe it would make you sad, even disgust you a bit.
But how many would actually do something about it?
And now, roughly 17,000 diapers sit at the church waiting to be handed out to needy families throughout McHenry County.
Swarthout has created McHenry County’s and even Illinois’ first real diaper bank.
Just six months ago, he had read an article in Time magazine about a diaper bank in Connecticut. He didn’t think much of it. Until he held that baby.
“At that moment, the stars aligned,” he says.
He has developed a program unlike any other by involving area social service agencies and churches.
St. Paul’s collects and stores the diapers. And the agencies, such as the Blessing Barn in Crystal Lake and the McHenry County Youth Service Bureau, pass them onto families.
“If someone needs diapers, they probably should have some social services,” Swarthout says. “It gets us all working together.”
His plans were to get the bank going in late October, but he’s already started distributing the diapers.
Since word has spread of the bank, the diapers keep coming, some randomly showing up on the steps of the church, located at 3706 St. Paul Ave.
Not just kids’ diapers, adult-size diapers as well to be used at agencies that help the elderly, such as Faith in Action.
Swarthout starting asking for the adult diapers at the suggestion of a 50-year-old man who had just lost his wife to cancer. The man told him how expensive it had been to care for his wife, who suffered from incontinence.
Along with the diapers, Swarthout has gotten $800 in donations to buy diapers.
“I didn’t know it was going to take off like this,” he says.
Anyone who’s ever had to buy diapers knows how expensive they can be, adding up to at least $130 a month for an infant.
The expense really hits low income families because diapers aren’t covered under the government’s Women, Infant and Children program.
For many, cloth diapers aren’t an option because daycares won’t accept them.
When the Rotary Club of Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers, of which Swarthout is a member, heard about the drive, they suggested each member bring a box to the next meeting.
“Everybody went way out of control, and brought two and three and four bags of diapers,” club President Sue Dobbe says.
The group donated roughly 4,500 diapers and intends to do so monthly. Area schools are planning to support the cause as well.
Dobbe suggested that parents with children who have grown out of diapers might have some open bags or boxes lingering in their closets that they could drop off at the church.
Swarthout hopes to have a Web site devoted to the bank up within the week to accept online monetary donations.
“We’re on our way,” he says.
— This article originally appeared on Jami Kunzer’s Everymom blog at www.nwherald.com.