On an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon when most school kids were playing in the sun, a group of Sheridan Elementary students were being blessed with warm winter coats thanks to the generosity of a group of neighbors in Hoffman Estates.
Several dozen students were given new winter coats Wednesday at the Elgin school, the result of a coat drive started six years ago led by Al and Denise DeGuzman of Hoffman Estates.
After learning of Sheridan students' need for winter coats through Willow Creek Community Church, the DeGuzmans came up with a fun, social way to come up with some assistance.
"What we did was throw a chili party at our house, opened up our garage, invited our neighbors to come in and bring a crock pot of chili," DeGuzman said, "It's more of a social gathering, but we also made it a coat drive so we called it, 'It's Chili, Bring a Coat.'"
Denise said for the first five years of donating the coats, she and Al stayed behind the scenes by simply dropping off the jackets. But witnessing the kids receiving them in person Wednesday provided an extra satisfaction for the DeGuzmans as they watched the kids try on the colorful new duds, the store tags still hanging from the sleeves.
Al said it's been a real blessing to be able to help keep the kids warm during the winter.
"It truly brings a smile to our faces, as well as theirs," he said.
The sixth annual party was held just weeks ago. "It's one of those (dates) that's set on everyone's calendar," Denise said. "As long as Sheridan has the need, we'll continue to support them as best we can,"
Even Sheridan Principal Nita White attended this year's chili party to see how all this neighborly kindness comes about.
"Our kids are so needy, so appreciative, and excited," White said. "The fact that they've done it for the last six years is remarkable, and it's reflective of what happens when everyone works together. Everyone benefits."
Third-grader Shariyah Reyes said she was surprised at the gifts given to her and her classmates. "I was amazed because my mom should have bought me a coat, but she's sick," she said, "I want to thank the people that raised the money to buy these coats for us. Without this I wouldn't have one."
"It was very surprising," said fourth-grader Hillary Mendez, "it's very beautiful, I like it."