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Donations to Hope fund is a way of honoring loved ones

Wendy Celesnik Waukegan with birthday bank this used by parishioners St. John's United Methodist Church Waukegan for donations Help Them

Wendy Celesnik of Waukegan with the birthday bank that is used by parishioners at St. John's United Methodist Church in Waukegan for donations to the Help Them To Hope fund. The church has donated to the fund for 30 years. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 25, 2012 6:20AM

Since its inception in 1959, Help Them to Hope, the Lake County News-Sun’s annual holiday appeal, has become a living memorial to thousands who have been remembered in donation listings published throughout each HTTH holiday season.

“I can’t remember when I started, it was so long ago,” said Carol Cameron of Winthrop Harbor, a longtime HTTH contributor, who recalls donating when her father-in-law passed away.

“I always gave him a Christmas present,” Cameron said. “I’m still giving presents, but they go to someone else.”

Someone else includes the many people in Lake County who are in need of basic food, clothing and shelter provided by the seven HTTH recipient agencies: A Safe Place, Catholic Charities, Community Social Services, Christian Outreach of Lutherans (COOL), Mothers Trust Foundation, Open Arms Mission, and PADS Lake County.

For years now, Cameron and her husband have honored the memory of their parents and other loved ones through a gift to HTTH. “When you read their names in the newspaper, you remember and other readers remember them,” Cameron said. “Fond memories — and it helps the living.”

Cameron said she likes that money collected through HTTH stays local.

“It all goes to the people, there’s no overhead,” she said.

The Forever Young Gals of Zion-Benton High Class of 1953, also make memorial gifts in honor of classmates who have passed in the preceding year.

As many as 18 gals gather once a month and members meet every Christmas at a member’s home for dinner.

“We were giving little ornaments to one another,” said Naomi Friedrich, of Zion. “And I said ‘We all have enough ornaments. Why don’t we do something very worthwhile?’ I suggested we each chip in as much as we can afford. We all agree it goes to a good cause.”

HTTH Board President and former Lake County News-Sun Publisher Richard Ribando of Lake Villa, estimated that 85 percent of gifts to the fund are memorials. His family began giving in tribute to his father, Victor, in 1998, the year he died. Now they also give in memory of his mother Florence, a faithful HTTH contributor, who died in April.

“Help Them to Hope is a wonderful way to remember the people who made a profound difference in your life,” Ribando said. “Donating to HTTH is a good deed in their name, It takes some of the sting out of the loss.”

Many civic and church groups are also regular HTTH donors.

At St. John’s United Church of Christ in Waukegan, members give in honor of the living. They make donations — some give $1 a year for each year of their life — to the Birthday Bank every third Sunday. The money, delivered by check to HTTH, has helped others live longer, healthier lives.

“We model Jesus who said we should give to the poor and give generously,” said St. John’s interim pastor Rev. David Strang. “It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. We have another saying: Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good.”

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