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Holiday spirit touches members of armed forces and their children

Young children show their excitement picking out gifts as part OperatiHomefront Uno's Gurnee Friday. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

Young children show their excitement picking out gifts as part of Operation Homefront at Uno's in Gurnee Friday. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 14, 2014 4:16AM

Men and women of the armed forces got a nice Christmas boost last Friday when Operation Homefront took over part of Uno’s restaurant on Grand Avenue in Gurnee where they received gifts for their children and food bags donated by a number of corporations.

Harvey Sleesman was holding 2-year-old Cameron who had picked out a tub of building blocks and wouldn’t let them go, while trying to balance bags of gifts and food. “I think this is very nice,” said the Navy man, adding that it would not be as good a holiday without the help from Operation Homefront.

His other child, Brayden, 8, had picked out a handheld arcade game and was questioning his father whether it was a game cartridge or a handheld. When told it was a handheld, he said, “It’s pretty cool.”

James Michael, field operation director for Operation Homefront, said Uno’s has been very supportive of the military, holding a back-to-school event in the restaurant parking lot earlier this year.

“We’re lucky to have a good partner here in Gurnee,” he said. They were serving between 150-200 military families, “or over 300 children,” he said. “We focus on junior and midlevel enlisted men and women because they are most likely to have small kids and most likely to be going on deployment,” he said.

“This is also a way for us to become familiar to them so when they run into financial difficulties, they know about us. They are notorious for not admitting they need help,” said Michael.

Operation Homefront has about 4,500 volunteers nationwide. They help out with financial assistance when the car breaks down, when the mortgage payment can’t be met, or a single mom needs to put food on the table, he said.

Last year, they had 151,000 “needs” met, and over the 11 years of their existence they have met over 750,000 “needs.” The local office is at 2707 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, 60625 where donations can be mailed. They are online at and they have a page on Facebook at OperationhomefrontIL.

Chris Gilmore, the manager of Uno, said his family has a strong background in the military even though he himself has never served. “We try to get involved in the community as much as possible,” he said of their participation. “Helping families in need is close to my heart; anything we can do, people come first,” he said.

Janine Bolke is an employee of Visual Pac, a Waukegan company that served up 7,500 meals to military personnel recently. Some meals remained, so the company made available Friday.

“Thank you for your service. Do you need help to the car with that?” she asked a family making its way through the line. “This is the way it should be, giving to others.”

Winona Abuan of Lake Villa said the help is very appreciated. “It’s been great,” she said, noting that last year, the gifts were pre-bagged, but “this time they get to pick their own, so it’s really nice,” she said as her daughters Kaitlyn, 3, and Tayrn, 6, picked out toys like a kitten puzzle.

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