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Gift drive gets Stevenson students in the holiday spirit


The Adopt-A-Family program so far has collected gifts for 13,700 people who are screened through social service providers. But about 750 people, are still waiting to be matched with secret Santas.

Anyone interested in helping should contact Jim Wogan with Catholic Charities at (847) 782-4210. Wogan said he can fax or e-mail information, including forms needed to shop for families or individuals.

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Updated: January 7, 2013 6:47AM

WAUKEGAN — It took a FedEx freight truck to deliver a mountain of Christmas presents donated by the Adlai Stevenson High School student body to the Catholic Charities Adopt-A-Family distribution center on Wednesday.

About 40 students from the Lincolnshire high school unloaded enough gifts for 235 needy families from the truck and carried them into a building on North Lewis Avenue in Waukegan. The scene turned into a mini-bikeathon when the young donors rolled out 82 brand new bicycles that reeked of new rubber and pedaled them into the vast space that every December transforms into Toy Land.

The students, many of them wearing Santa hats and red long-sleeve T-shirts that declared their annual gift collection’s theme, “Dr. Seuss, bringing holiday cheer to every girl and boy,” were a cheerful bunch, some of them breaking into an impromptu, abbreviated choral performance of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Monica Chen, a senior from Buffalo Grove, said the “whole school” gets involved in the gift drive, with planning beginning in September and student leaders working to organize fund-raising and gift collection.

“It really gets us in the holiday spirit,” Chen said. “It’s a cause we can all work together to support.”

For Lily Zhang, a Stevenson senior from Long Grove, Adopt-A-Family is about gratitude.

“A lot of families that go to Stevenson are privileged and they’re lucky to have what they have,” she said. “But a lot of other families don’t get to celebrate Christmas.”

Students, including senior Megan Vanderah of Buffalo Grove, handcrafted more than 200 colorful fleece blankets that sat neatly stacked on shelving in the warehouse, along with rows of dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals, board games, hundreds of other toys and racks of warm clothing.

“Sometimes I look at a bicycle or wrapped gift and the idea that some boy or girl will get to unwrap it on Christmas morning — it’s magical,” Vanderah said. “We get to be Santa Claus for a day.”

“It’s incredibly fun and gratifying,” said Jesse, a senior, who declined to give his last name. “It’s just incredibly nice to know this will make people smile. My parents went through the whole immigration process. They know what it’s like not to have money.”

Before heading for lunch at an area food pantry, Stevenson students gathered around Jim Wogan, Catholic Charities Lake County volunteer coordinator. He reminded the group that the Adopt-A-Family program, now in its 27th year, is a collective enterprise carried forward each year by the generosity and hard work of more than 300 volunteers including individuals from high schools, also including Libertyville, Lake Forest and Carmel Catholic in Mundelein; corporations including Baxter International, Abbott Laboratories and Aon Hewitt; and churches including, St. Paul in Gurnee, St. Gilbert in Grayslake and St. Mary of Vernon in Indian Creek.

“It’s amazing how everyone comes together and provides for 15,000 people in this county,” Wogan said. “An awful lot of people would have nothing under the tree without this program and your involvement in it.”

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