When JoAnn Kunkel’s four children were young, they would adopt a family through Catholic Charities and play Santa for a family in need. "When your children are blessed with a lot, it’s very wrenching to see all a child wants is a football or backpack or pajamas," Kunkel says. "So as a family we started doing our shopping for our (adopted) family."
Kunkel’s children are adults now and recently her newly married daughter and husband adopted their own family.
Now as the co-chair of the Celebration of Giving through Catholic Charities in Chicago, Kunkel is reaching out to other families who can help those in need through donations and volunteering.
Last year the Celebration of Giving program gave more than 9,000 children three toys each: a toy to learn from, a toy to play with and something to cuddle. And 550 families were served through the sponsor-a-family program, says Sheila Haennicke, assistant director of communications for Catholic Charities in Chicago.
Catholic Charities provides assistance to families and children recommended through local social workers; the families do not have to be Catholic to qualify for aid, Haennicke says.
To get families in her hometown of LaGrange interested in helping out, Kunkel organizes a yearly tea for local families. Instead of bringing a hostess gift, Kunkel asked them to bring a new, unwrapped toy. Last year more than 200 women attended and donated enough toys to fill a truck. She suggests parents adapt this idea to their family.
"What I would suggest to young parents is to start instilling in their children the spirit of giving to others. It could be a mom/daughter tea and the little girls could pick out toys they’d want to donate," Kunkel says. "If they donate seven toys, that’s seven more than we had before, so there’s nothing too small."
And in tough economic times, it’s even more important to look out for those less fortunate. "Call it karma. Call it good will, what goes out comes back to you," Kunkel says.
Catholic Charities operates numerous drop-off centers in Chicago and the suburbs. Find more information on donating and volunteering at www.catholiccharities.net/celebration, by e-mailing Michael McDonnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (312) 226-0650.