It all began with a single plastic collection bin at the Elk Grove Village Public Library.
Rocio Rosales, a 25-year-old Elk Grove Village mom, set it out after watching news coverage of Hurricane Harvey. She felt compelled to help the victims, especially those in Katy, Texas, west of Houston, where she grew up and still had family.
Rosales, who'd never done a charity collection before, said the donations trickled in slowly at first. But as word of her collection spread, the bin at the library started to fill, then overflow. At one point, Rosales was making three pickup trips a day because the donations couldn't all fit into her Toyota Corolla. She set up additional drop-off spots at the Elk Grove VFW and the Oakton Animal Hospital.
Soon, what began as a small charity effort by one suburban mom morphed into a major donation drive.
When the drive ended last weekend, Rosales had collected 10,000 pounds of supplies for hurricane victims, including 975 pounds of nonperishable food, 960 pounds of dog food, 15 dog crates, 435 pounds of diapers and wipes, and more than two tons of bottled water.
"All of the donations came from individuals. It was all just the community," Rosales said. "At first, I was more skeptical that we would even get donations. I was just one person asking for things, and people are never sure of where their stuff is going. But I wasn't asking for money, just items."
All of the supplies are going to the hurricane shelter at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Catholic Church in Katy, the church Rosales grew up in, which she described as "a place I know and trust." The church is housing a donation center to help people who have lost their homes and possessions.
"(Rosales) texted me all the items that were coming, and my mouth just fell open," said Janice Romero, manager of the church's donation center. "It's so great that we have someone like that supporting us. It can go a long way."
Originally, Rosales and her husband, Enrique, a truck driver, planned to rent a truck and drive everything down to Katy themselves. But Enrique's employer, XPO Logistics, volunteered to pack up and deliver the items to Texas for free.
The donations are now Katy-bound, as is the Rosales family, who left Tuesday night for their 17-hour drive.
Rosales did all this while recovering from two surgeries for a rare heart disease, ARVD (arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia), which can cause sudden death and has no cure other than a heart transplant. While loading supplies, she sometimes had to take breaks because it was straining her heart.
Rosales said the disease has made her look at life differently.
"I'm more compassionate and I sympathize more with everyone," she said. "Even people I don't know, I worry about."
Before her surgeries, Rosales, who has a 4-year-old son, worked as a warehouse manager. Now, she's thinking about looking for a job in community service or with a nonprofit group.
"I felt so good helping people," she said. "We've had so many good things happening to (our family) lately, we want to help others. I'm grateful that I'm able to help, and pay it forward."
She also met many new people in her community. One is a woman named Lori who donated 26 cases of water to her collection.
"She thanked me for doing this, and told me she wanted to take me out to dinner after all of this is over," she said, "so I made a new friend."