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4,500 families enjoy the holiday thanks to Catholic Charities

Jim Wogan organizer annual 'Adopt Family' Catholic Charities Christmas gift  distributishows off space donated by Sears Holding Corp. for

Jim Wogan, organizer of the annual "Adopt a Family" Catholic Charities Christmas gift distribution shows off a space donated by Sears Holding Corp. for the effort - the old Kmart building in Waukegan. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 16, 2014 4:13AM

Catholic Charities Lake County, which each year organizes the “Adopt-a-Family” Christmas gift and toy distribution, can’t make up its mind: is it better to give, or to receive?

The agency is a pro, an angel, a machine when it comes to giving. It’s 28th annual gift and toy distribution to children in need has reached 4,500 Lake County families in recent days with the help of hundreds of volunteers and donors. As new bikes, Legos, dollies and warm winter coats were toted off by grateful parents, Adopt-A-Family organizer and head honcho, Jim Wogan, was almost giddy about the outsize gift he found in his own stocking months before most people were even thinking about Christmas.

“We’re just so grateful to Sears Holding Corp.,” Wogan said. “Our biggest issue is always getting a place.”

Seeking a home

Like many low-income Lake County residents, Catholic Charities struggles to find a safe, affordable home, but for just three weeks of the year when it needs a massive space to collect and redistribute thousands of holiday gift items. The charity roams year to year between spaces, which are often drafty and leaky.

This year, Wogan had his eye on the former Kmart building on Belvidere Road in Waukegan. Closed since 2012, it offers lots of space, lots of parking and a more central location.

Working with some long-shot contacts provided by a volunteer, Wogan finally tracked down the manager of acquisitions and disposition for Sears, which now owns Kmart. The executive soon felt the warmth of Wogan’s convincing. After a flurry of paperwork, Wogan received what he’d been wishing for.

“Ask any of these volunteers,” said Wogan last week as people scurried between long rows of bags and boxes, hundreds of new bicycles and tables filled with new toys. “It’s warm. It’s dry. It’s well-lit − and it’s got a security system.

“And everybody knows where it’s at − the old Kmart in Waukegan,” Wogan said.

Catholic Charities, a recipient agency of Help them to Hope, the Lake County New-Sun’s annual holiday appeal, draws hundreds of volunteers for the distribution, including Larry and Ellen Wing of Lindenhurst. On Thursday, Dec. 12, Larry sat inside the old Kmart, watching over a forest of new bicycles waiting for their rightful place − leaning on a kickstand next to some lucky kid’s Christmas tree.

“It may sound corny,” Wing said. “But Catholic Charities gave us two beautiful kids. At the time we adopted, we didn’t have a pot to pee in. I figure this is payback.”

Outside the store, Sheree Robinson waited for a ride home, two large bags filled with gifts for her four children. She echoed sentiments expressed by both Wogan and Wing.

“It’s a big help,” she said. “It means a lot.”

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