Rachel Clark walked into Thornton Township hall and was simply amazed. Her eyes turned to the thousands of wrapped gifts for kids and couldn’t believe an event like this existed.
“I can only imagine how the kids feel like when they see everything,” said Clark, of Calumet City, who brought her son, Julius, 4, and six nephews. “It’s incredible that a program like this is available and I know so many families, including myself, are very thankful.”
Thornton Township, the largest township in Illinois, gave away more than 4,500 toys to community residents as well as 1,400 holiday food baskets during its annual Christmas Care program. It’s a tradition that has become a staple of the township’s December programs for the past two decades in an effort to make the holidays more enjoyable for families. Each child receives at least three individual wrapped gifts.
“This is one of my favorite programs all year,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “It’s a great feeling when you see the excitement in a child’s eyes when they see all the wrapped presents, and then you see the parents so thankful that they can provide a good Christmas for their children.”
Lanisha Adams, 18, of Riverdale, took her two 10-year-old twin brothers, Damarion and Omarion to the Christmas Care program. They took photos with Santa, ate pizza and picked up toys that they will open on Christmas.
“They really like everything today from the snacks to the photos and I know they are looking forward to the presents,” said Lanisha Adams.
Ivy Pillar and her friend, Lynette Jones, left with a large bag each of presents for their children. They understand the work it takes for any organization to create a program this large, and they didn’t take it for granted.
“We are thankful for everyone in the township from Frank Zuccarelli down to the volunteers who made the experience great,” said Pillar, of South Holland. “This is something we are not going to forget.”
Throughout December, Thornton Township employees and volunteers wrap thousands of gifts, separating them by age group and families. It is a labor of love that has staff wrapping late into the weekday nights along with the weekends. In addition, the township gave families free onesies for newborns up to 24-months, understanding the need to provide an all-encompassing package of gifts, food and clothing.
“The township enjoys helping families. That is what local government is supposed to do,” said Joyce Washington, Thornton Township trustee. “The community really comes out for this program and we are going to continue having this event for our residents.”
Thornton Township recently received the Illinois Township of the Year award at the annual Township of Illinois Annual Educational Conference in Springfield. The township received the award previously in 2004 and 2008.