Presented with all the impressive bows and luxury wrapping paper that transform even a simple gift into something almost high-fashion, Lilly Grimm heads straight for the no-fuss packaging.
Brown paper, in fact.
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No, it's not like she ran out of newspaper and string.
The Burr Ridge woman prefers a natural canvas for the real artistry of a master gift-wrapper: unexpected accessories she recycles from her house and yard.
She's dressed gifts with ornaments and dried flowers. She's made collages out of magazine clippings. Instead of a ribbon, she's wrapped boxes with ties (hinting at a shirt inside). This year, she's sewing a miniature uniform to sit on top of presents for her son, a cadet.
The personal attention to each gift may require more time and creativity, but also garners plenty of praise.
"When you take the time and present someone with a beautiful gift, they think 'she really cares about me,'" she said.
Grimm, who provides bilingual services at Hinsdale-based HCS Family Services, also volunteers as a gift wrapper at Oakbrook Center.
Proceeds from the gift-wrapping program, which continues until Christmas Eve at the shopping center, support HCS, a nonprofit organization that serves low-income individuals and families in southeast DuPage County through a mobile and permanent food pantry at 19 E. Chicago Ave. in Hinsdale, as well as housing and utility assistance.
Last year, volunteers at Oakbrook Center wrapped about 875 gifts for shoppers.
"We're not even into the last-minute rush yet," said Suzanne Beres, the center's senior marketing manager.
The fundraiser at Oak Brook -- expected to generate about $10,000 -- is "critical," said Debbie Baker, HCS director of development. More than 19,000 people used the nonprofit's food pantry program in 2011.
"It's really, really hard to keep up with the demand right now, so this is a huge help to us," Baker said.
Grimm plays it pretty straight while doing her wrapping at Oakbrook Center, but even then she demonstrates a bit of flair.
During a recent shift at the gift-wrapping station at the center's upper level between Sears and Nordstrom, Grimm wrapped a package in slightly more than four minutes using only nine pieces of double-sided tape.
If you're a last-minute shopper panicking at the thought of wrapping gifts, Grimm suggests hunting around the house for eco-friendly and economical ways to package presents.
For gifts for kids, use coloring book pages, she said. For the sports fanatic, Grimm recommends pieces of fabric in colors inspired by a favorite team. Even the inside of a box can be lined with inexpensive velvet and a touch of spray glue.
Form an assembly line with friends or family to help you, Grimm said. First, cut all the pieces of wrapping paper you need instead of returning to rolls or other materials for each box. Grimm relies on three distinct pieces of twine to measure the appropriate amount of paper for small, medium and large boxes.
"You don't have to be intimidated by it," Grimm said. "Just have fun with it, but have pride in what you do."
We asked Grimm to dissect her approach for a perfectly wrapped gift for the Daily Herald. Here's how she does it ...