It's Christmas and across the suburbs children woke this morning to find their wishes had come true -- new tech, books and toys, music, art supplies, sports gear, clothes and more all waiting under the tree.
In many homes, the gift-giving was a collaboration among Mom, Dad and Santa. But for nearly 2,000 children, the joy arrived courtesy of the donors and volunteers of the Humanitarian Service Project.
Vital statsRequests for help: HSP receives more than 1,000 requests from families every year to be added to the Christmas Offering "waiting list" to receive gifts for their children and food for their families. The waiting period to be enrolled in the Senior Citizen Project and Children's Project is roughly 2½ years
Annual budget: $1.3 million
Funding: Private donations from individuals, service groups, businesses, schools, churches, foundations
Full-time employees: Six
Volunteers: More than 1,500 annually
Wish list: Monetary donations, facial tissues, personal care items, new books (particularly for children 6 and older)
To donate, volunteer or learn more: (630) 221-8340 or hsp.agency
Like Santa's elves, volunteers at the nonprofit spent the weeks before the holiday sorting, wrapping and handing out donated gifts to ensure families in need in DuPage and Kane counties would be able to celebrate like their friends and neighbors.
Making sure children experience life's major moments despite their family's financial situation is a major part of the Carol Stream agency's mission.
Just as its Christmas Offering provides gifts and food for a holiday meal for families in need, HSP's Children's Project helps provide for children throughout the year. With a Birthday Box that includes age-appropriate gifts as well as the makings for a birthday party -- from cake mix and frosting to paper plates and party favors -- children are able to celebrate their special day with family and friends.
Beyond the Birthday Box, the Children's Project helps prepare kids for the classroom with school supplies. And some families also receive bread and nonperishable food during the year, as well as fresh produce and meat in June, July and August when school is out and subsidized breakfasts and lunches aren't available.
The Humanitarian Service Project reaches out to seniors as well, each month delivering groceries, toiletries and cleaning supplies to those enrolled in the Senior Citizen Project. The agency also tries to fulfill special requests for household items such as small appliances and even furniture.
Today, as families celebrate with gifts from the Humanitarian Service Project, Executive Director Kristin Senne tells us more about how the organization helps families and seniors referred to HSP by other social service agencies.
Q. What is your mission?
A. Our mission is to alleviate the pain and suffering poverty brings to seniors and children, without discrimination or exclusion.
Q. How do you work toward accomplishing your mission?
A. The Humanitarian Service Project provides direct services to low-income senior citizens, children and families in DuPage and Kane counties through its three main programs: the Senior Citizen Project, the Children's Project, and the Christmas Offering.
Senior Citizen Project delivers monthly nutritious grocery packages to 136 seniors living under poverty. The grocery packages provide a path to healthy eating these seniors would otherwise have no access to.
Every month, each senior receives 90 to 100 pounds of groceries delivered to their door by our volunteers; the packages include 15 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, seven selections of frozen meat, three loaves of bread, six bags of nonperishables, two bags of paper products and hygiene products.
The seniors also receive secret pal gifts, food for their pets and a cupcake for their birthday.
Children's Project provides relief to low-income children and their families through three primary distributions: nutritious groceries, birthday gifts and school supplies. This program is designed to provide support to low-income children on many fronts by meeting many of their nutritional, emotional and academic needs.
Christmas Offering provides new Christmas gifts to impoverished children, as well as nutritious groceries to low-income families. In 2016, HSP provided Christmas gifts to more than 1,900 children and 136 seniors, and groceries to 500 families.
Q. What sets your group apart?
A. We are proud to have strong relationships with our families and seniors. They know they can count on us for basic need support and the "fun to have items" like birthday and Christmas gifts that make people feel special.
While HSP's services are unique in our community, many other agencies do great work to help provide for the nutritional and other needs of local children, families and seniors.
We maintain strong collaborative relationships with a number of these agencies, including the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which provides HSP with access to reduced-cost food for our clients.
HSP also has special relationships with the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry and Teen Parent Connection. When we receive materials that could be better used by these agencies, we send them along and vice versa. We also refer people to agencies within the community if we know they can benefit from their services, such as Loaves and Fishes Community Services and the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry.
Q. When and why did the organization start?
A. HSP was founded by Karole Kettering and her husband, Floyd, out of their spare room in 1979. At the time, HSP was purely a seasonal Christmas project designed to provide assistance to low-income children and their families during the holidays. As HSP grew, it added year-round programs in the form of the Senior Citizen Project and Children's Project. HSP now distributes more than 140 tons of nutritious groceries each year and thousands of birthday and Christmas gifts, and makes critical interventions in the lives of those in need.
Q. What major accomplishments has your organization achieved in the past three years?
A. Among HSP's biggest accomplishments was a major program expansion of the Children's Project that began last fall and came to fruition this summer. In previous years, HSP served 100 families with groceries in summer. In 2017, we greatly expanded this program, offering service to every family enrolled in the Children's Project. This led to a significant program expansion, with more than 200 families served during each of the summer months, translating to an increase of eight tons of food distributed in a three-month period.
Q. What goals have you set for the coming year?
A. Our biggest goal is to expand our warehouse space to store more nutritious food and other goods for our clients.
Q. What challenges do you face?
A. As with many agencies, the challenges are primarily financial. With the needs of our community growing on an annual basis, HSP hopes to expand its programs. From a financial standpoint, though, we are focusing our efforts on growing our partnerships to build increased donor support. Our fundraising campaigns are focused on bringing greater awareness to the hunger and food insecurity issues facing residents to ensure our doors will remain open as long as we are needed and we are able to increase the capacity of programs.
Q. What would surprise people if they spent a week with the organization?
A. We often meet people who are surprised by how much need there is in the community. More than 90 percent of the families we serve have at least one parent who is working, and nearly all the seniors we serve have spent their lives employed but simply don't make enough to make ends meet.
Poverty and food insecurity have profound effects on vulnerable populations in our communities, but there are also so many ways for people to become part of the solution by engaging with HSP or the other great agencies that are tackling these problems.
On a lighter note, people are surprised how many volunteers it takes to support our programs and the amount of organizing work it takes.
Q. How can readers get involved?
A. HSP was founded on the principle that when the community comes together to help those in need, powerful changes can occur. Readers can "sponsor" seniors, children and families in our programs to help provide them with HSP's services. Community members also can run fundraisers, conduct a food, toy, paper or other type of donation drive, or contact HSP to volunteer.