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posted: 12/12/2012 11:59 AM

Donations to area toy drive drop, more are needed

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  • Jim Harney of Des Plaines squeezes in with some of the toys for this year's drive. He sorts them by age and by gender.

      Jim Harney of Des Plaines squeezes in with some of the toys for this year's drive. He sorts them by age and by gender.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Harney gives a hug to some of the teddy bears that will given to children this year.

      Jim Harney gives a hug to some of the teddy bears that will given to children this year.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

For the 10th time, a suburban father and son-in-law hope to defeat the Grinch and deliver holiday joy to sick children.

It was in December 2003 that burglars broke into Aberdeens Wedding Florist on Harlem Avenue in Chicago, stealing $2,000 and 70 toys that the staff had donated for a children's Christmas party. The subsequent media coverage caught the imagination of people around the Chicago area, and before they knew it, Aberdeens was overflowing with tens of thousands of donated toys.

That was the start of something big.

Since that year, Jim Harney, former owner of Aberdeens, and his son-in-law, Frank Davis, have made it their mission to collect thousands of toys each year and deliver them to area hospitals and other organizations.

But this year, the generosity has noticeably waned. Less than two weeks before Christmas, they have about 3,000 toys, only half their usual goal. Harney has gotten about 1,000 new, unwrapped toys at Aberdeens Wedding Florist and Davis has collected nearly 2,000 toys at the Lindenhurst Early Childhood Center and the Gary Morava Recreation Center in Prospect Heights.

"I'm sure it's the economy," Harney said. "People are worried about their jobs and paying taxes."

But Santa must make his deliveries, Harney and Davis say.

"People are expecting us," says Harney, who lives in Des Plaines. "They know we're going to be delivering toys."

"We're trying to create good memories for kids," adds Davis, who lives in Prospect Heights and owns the Lindenhurst day care center, "and not just raise funds or give a check to an agency."

It was 10 years ago this week, that someone broke into Aberdeens and blew up the safe, ransacking the shop and taking the toys.

"Every single TV station and newspaper reported it -- for like seven days straight," Davis says. "And the community responded. People lined up at the door of Aberdeens to donate.

"In one week, we had nearly 8,000 toys," Davis adds, "and we felt this enormous responsibility to deliver them."

It took three weeks, starting with Chicago hospitals and quickly branching out to the suburbs. Their list now includes 61 hospitals, the Little City Foundation and Kirk School, both in Palatine; Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Vista Health System and Kids Hope United, both in Waukegan; Allendale Association in Lake Villa, Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Nicasa in Round Lake, as well as the food pantries at CEDA Northwest in Mount Prospect and at Wheeling Township in Arlington Heights.

What started out as a family effort now has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization, spearheaded by Davis and called the 100 Percent Foundation.

They do much more than the toy drive. Working behind the scenes to rally support from local businesses, they sponsor programs roughly once a month. They range from sponsoring the Kirk School prom, to taking children from the New Horizon Center for the Developmentally Disabled to the circus.

But their toy drive remains their biggest effort. Collectively, they figure they have distributed more than 60,000 presents over the last 10 years and they hope to make thousands of children happy again this year.

"The stories involved are unbelievable," Harney says. "I'll remember some of these children forever."

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