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One Hope United brightens season for 2,600 kids

Volunteers staff One Hope United carry boxes gifts through lobby RichardsHouse One Hope United Lake Villearlier this week. | Frank

Volunteers and staff of One Hope United carry boxes of gifts through the lobby of the Richardson House at One Hope United in Lake Villa earlier this week. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 12, 2014 3:36AM

How many boxes of Christmas gifts can three trucks hold? You would be surprised.

This week at the Richardson House of One Hope United in Lake Villa on Route 83, a number of elves were busy finding out — loading up gifts for nearly 2,700 children living in the Chicagoland and southern Wisconsin area.

“People were in a real giving mood this year, and we had a lot of people contact us who said ‘We want to do something,’” said Joyce Heneberry, senior vice president of development.

“Then we got organized and 2,600 kids were covered, all individualized,” she said, explaining through case workers the children put together a wish list and then they were matched up with donors.

“It might have been a corporation taking 500, a family taking two or just an individual asking for one gift request,” said Heneberry.

One Hope United is a faith-based organization (American Baptist Church mission partner) that has been providing services to vulnerable children and families for more than a century in the Chicagoland area and southern Wisconsin. They also have programs in Missouri and Florida.

They have prevention services to support families at risk of abuse or neglect called Wings and a nationally accredited Child Development Program for high-quality child care for low-income families. They also have delinquency prevention programs and provide counseling and outreach services.

By investing in children and families, they save society as a whole — a larger expense. One year in the Wings program costs about $1,800 while foster care for one youth per year runs $30,000, and 99 percent of those families in the program did not have abuse or neglect problems. Over 1,000 clients were served by the Youth Services for delinquent adolescents and 83 percent did not have anymore contact with the juvenile justice system.

Marilee LaMattina, a development associate who bills herself as the head elf, said there were 17 corporations and 13 churches among those who stepped up to brighten the holidays for the children.

“It’s churches, high school student councils, companies, stores, it’s a wide spectrum of organizations that help out,” she said. Both of her sons, Joseph, 26, and David, 22, helped her, with her oldest spending several days getting the gifts organized.

“They were told they were going to do it,” she said with a laugh, but each has volunteered a number of times in the 7 years she has worked at the agency. This year, there were three sailors from Naval Station Great Lakes who also volunteered to drive trucks to the various sites.

They also hold drives for coats, hats and gloves, diapers, pajamas and other items that can be used as stocking stuffers.

In the next few days, she will be fielding calls from staff about children that were missed or just came into the system recently, but she has a ready supply of gift cards for that purpose. “We make sure everyone gets something before the holidays,” she said.

Nearly 1,000 gifts went to the south side of Chicago in the Kenwood area and another 200 went to Joilet, Elgin, and Aurora. There are 15 sites all together.

“We go from Kenosha to Joilet and McHenry to Waukegan,” she said.

Howard Schnitzer of Lake Villa, who owns A&S Grand Ave. car dealership in Waukegan, has been on the board for the past 11 years and he also drives the gifts to the various locations.

“When I walk into some of these centers with the boxes, the kids know. You should see their eyes, they know what’s coming,” he said as he laughed.

Caseworkers also give out thank-you cards that families and children can then send back to the organization. LaMattina gathers some of the best and puts them in a newsletter that goes out to all who contributed.

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