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Mundelein police launch season of outreach with Thanksgiving deliveries

In December officers will help disadvantaged kids play Santshopping trip Target. The department expects invite record number kids for 'Shop

In December, officers will help disadvantaged kids play Santa in a shopping trip to Target. The department expects to invite a record number of kids for "Shop with a Cop," Police Chief Eric Guenther, left, said. | Katlyn Smith/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 29, 2014 3:23AM

As he loaded his unmarked police car, Mundelein Sgt. Patrick Gara was clearly taken aback by the operation.

“Holy moly,” the veteran cop said of his unusual haul.

Police were in hot pursuit of something fowl: 20-pound Jennie-O turkeys, to be precise.

Officers filled their patrol cars with the donated birds and all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving feast on Tuesday, Nov. 26. Volunteers and their police escort delivered the meals to needy families, ushering in a season of outreach for the department.

In December, cops will help disadvantaged kids play Santa in a shopping trip also backed by donations.

More than 40 families have received Thanksgiving essentials. Without the effort, they would likely not be able to put a full dinner on the table, organizers say.

Some burst into tears and even embrace officers. Others are left speechless.

“When they see that they have a Thanksgiving meal, just that look is priceless,” Judy Gil said.

The Mundelein High School junior has seen those reactions for the last three years. Gil said serving the meals has left such an impression that she wants to become a nurse to continue “giving back.”

Mundelein’s Elly’s Pancake House provided the turkeys. Gil’s peers in the Mundelein After School Coalition and fifth-graders from Fremont Intermediate School were charged with collecting the sides. Kids also took the time to make cards.

Police reached out to social workers at area schools to choose families, often with young children.

Some students roamed grocery store aisles for veggies, mashed potatoes and, of course, the ingredients for pumpkin pie.

“The kids get a bigger kick out of it being able to help and bring something to these families,” Police Chief Eric Guenther said.

Meanwhile, the department is on track to set a record for Shop with a Cop.

Police have raised enough money to send an unprecedented number of kids on a shopping spree at Mundelein’s Target store Saturday, Dec. 14. Officials expect to invite 70 kids, far above the number in previous years, when contributions dipped in tight economic times.

“People weren’t able to give so much, so those programs suffered, but now we’re seeing a swing in the other direction,” Guenther said.

Each kid gets about $100 to purchase gifts for the holidays. Officers, as well as village and fire officials, help push carts.

The young shoppers usually ignore their own wish lists.

“More times than not, kids want to spend the money for someone else,” Guenther said.

Sonja Kajohn’s 11-year-old daughter, Evelyn, helped pack up food with her Girl Scout troop ahead of the deliveries. The Fremont fifth-grader handpicked a spread big enough to fill a laundry basket, her mom said.

“It puts everything into perspective of how fortunate we are,” she said.

To get involved with Shop with a Cop, contact Mundelein Crime Prevention Officer Rachel Messina at (847) 968-3783.

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