Charity group goes for broke helping others during the holidays

Going broke isn't a typical goal for anyone during the holidays.

But every year, the Chicagoland Italian American Charitable Organization aims to do just that.

"The more who join our group, the more who give. And that's more we can give away. By the end of the year, we are penniless," says CIACO board of directors member Joe Salerno, who owns Salerno's Rosedale Chapels in Roselle.

The group of about 120 Italian-American business people runs charity events throughout the year, awarding college scholarships to high school seniors, helping disabled veterans who need assistance providing for their families, or supplying adaptive equipment to families with special needs.

One of its biggest annual efforts comes during the holidays with the Baskets of Love program. Along with the group's own funds, businesses from throughout the area donate food, supplies and even conveyor belts to help CIACO members, their families and other volunteers to assemble roughly 600 food baskets just before Thanksgiving at a Glendale Heights warehouse.

Working through local churches and food pantries, the 50-pound baskets are given to families in need throughout the suburbs and Chicago in time for the holidays.

Salerno says the effort gets bigger each year, requiring more helping hands and more money. But that's a good thing, he says, because it allows group members to work in tandem with their children and grandchildren, with older members organizing and coordinating, children working on the conveyor belt, and stronger teens and young adults lifting the heavy boxes.

The effort also teaches the younger generation some important lessons, he says.

"We have to be thankful for what we have and we have to teach our children and grandchildren to be prepared to give back," he said. "When we do these baskets, everyone has a good time, everyone feels good about it and the community benefits."

Following the Baskets of Love effort, the organization hosts an annual Christmas party for members and their guests to collect toys for more than 800 children in need. Like the Baskets of Love, toys are distributed to families in need selected by local churches, as well as to children in the care of the state.

"Every year these efforts get bigger and bigger, which is amazing," Salerno said.

For details on the Chicagoland Italian American Charitable Organization and how you can help its projects, visit

Joseph Salerno
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