Weather Updates

Mary’s Mission to host annual holiday parties for the poor

This was scene last December when Mary Lacey hosted her annual Lake County Jail Christmas party Waukegan. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA

This was the scene last December when Mary Lacey hosted her annual Lake County Jail Christmas party in Waukegan. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

storyidforme: 58800528
tmspicid: 15564461
fileheaderid: 7028785

Mary’s Mission Toys for Tots Holiday Giveaway will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Lake County Jail, 25 S. Martin Luther King Jr Ave. and beginning at 8 a.m. Dec. 22-23 at Mary’s Mission, 642 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

New toys for donation may be dropped off 24-hours per day at the mission. For more information, call Rev. Mary Lacey at (847) 775-1496.

Updated: February 7, 2014 3:22AM

Anita Williams of Waukegan recalls a Christmas when her now-grown son was 7 and the family was broke.

“I wasn’t working, I was ill,” Williams said. “Then Dr. Lacey called and asked if we needed anything. It was a miracle.”

It was Mary Lacey, founder and longtime operator of Mary’s Mission on Waukegan’s South Side, who sent the family a bag of presents and a tree sparkling with lights.

“My son was so excited and happy,” Williams recalled. “A lot of people around here wouldn’t have Christmas without Dr. Lacey.”

Lacey, a minister for the Church of God in Christ and gospel singer who once performed for First Lady Betty Ford, is determined to throw her annual Christmas Toys for Tots parties despite her own serious health issues.

She spent more than 12 days in induced comas last summer and was repeatedly hospitalized.

“The Lord has blessed me to be able to carry on,” said Lacey, 75. “Planning these events has helped me regain my health.”

It might take a coma − or worse − to make the legendary Lacey disappoint the thousands of kids who, hand-in-hand with their parents every December, make their way to Mary’s Mission.

“We’ve been here for 35 years,” Lacey said on Wednesday, Dec. 4. “We see the children whose parents are on public assistance and who can’t afford to put things under the tree.”

This year’s party circuit begins on Dec. 21 at the Lake County Jail, 25 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., in downtown Waukegan and continues on Dec. 22 and 23 at the mission, 642 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. The events are run by dozens of volunteers and funded through private donations. Santa Claus has also been invited.

Lacey said she expects to distribute 10,000 toys. Last year, 9,800 toys were carried in by volunteers and piled into the arms children.

Marine Sgt. Dennis Jones has overseen the collection of about 20,000 toys so far this holiday season. Other major distribution centers include Family First Support Center in Waukegan and Foss Park Community Center in North Chicago.

“The Marines are the face for Toys for Tots,” Jones said. “We do the leg work. But it’s the people in the community, the organizations, that give.”

At the jail, children of an estimated 630 inmates who stop by for video visits will receive dollies and tea sets and toy trucks. Parents and guardians will take home frozen turkeys donated by elected officials and, if Lacey holds sway, gift cards, donated by other groups.

“For people who are incarcerated, the holidays are a very sad time,” said Jennifer Witherspoon, chief of inmate and diversion programs. “Maybe they’re reflecting on the choices they’ve made. And when kids are separated from their parents, they can grow despondent too. Mary Lacey understands that giving a kid a toy not only gives them some cheer, but brightens their spirit.”

“She was at death’s door,” volunteer Yvonne Senter-Evans of North Chicago said of Lacey. “I thought ‘She’s not going to be able to do it this year.’

“But she just kept praying and believing. And there are people who support her, who believe in what she’s doing.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.