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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

These West Side Toy Drives Are Asking For Donations So Every Kid Can Have A Gift This Holiday Season

Organizations are also seeking coats and winter gear for West Side families in need.

The Breakthrough Christmas Store allows people to shop for gifts in a daylong event with music, food, and activities for kids.
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WEST SIDE — Organizations across the city are working to make sure all children can appreciate the simple joy of opening a gift this holiday season — and they need your help.

Here are some of the gift drives being organized by West Side businesses and groups.

MASK Toy Drive

Austin-based vegan food company Upton’s Naturals is seeking donations for a toy drive in partnership with Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings (MASK), a mom-driven violence prevention group that works to interrupt violence by posting up on troubled blocks, especially in Englewood and Lawndale.

Upton’s Naturals is asking for help buying gifts for children on its Amazon wishlist. Gifts purchased from the list will be shipped directly to the Upton’s Naturals headquarters on the West Side where their team will wrap the gifts and prepare them to be given away at a MASK holiday party.

Folks looking to chip in can also donate wrapping paper and gift bags by dropping them off at Upton’s breakroom, 2054 W. Grand Ave.

Toys will be distributed to kids and teens at a holiday party that MASK is planning for the weekend before Christmas in Englewood. The date and time of the party will soon be announced on the MASK Facebook page.

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Gifts collected for the MASK Holiday Toy Drive.

“Usually Santa’s there to hand out the gifts for the kids. We try to have one gift and one book for every child in attendance,” said Nicole Sopko, a vice president at Upton’s Naturals who has helped organize the gift drive for several years.

Breakthrough Christmas Store

In Garfield Park, Breakthrough Urban Ministries is also seeking gift donations for their annual Christmas Store, an event at the Breakthrough FamilyPlex on Dec. 14.

The Breakthrough Christmas Store is a unique spin on a holiday gift drive that gives families the power to choose quality gifts for their loved ones.

Each year, Breakthrough collects about 5,000 gifts. On the day of the event, 500 participants will get to shop through the store to select and purchase gifts for between $1 and $10, a small fraction of the items’ retail price.

Breakthrough has been registering families to shop at the store at their youth programs, their Fresh Market food pantry and through their housing programs for people experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

“They’re able to get really quality gifts for their loved ones,” said Ann Healing, who oversees the Christmas store. “Instead of a stranger giving a gift for their kids… it gives them the dignity of picking out gifts themselves.”

The organization is about halfway to its goal of 5,000 gifts, and is seeking additional donations for the store from their Amazon wishlist by Dec. 12. The store is especially in need of gifts for teens and adults.

Donors can also drop off gifts directly to the FamilyPlex at 3219 W. Carroll Ave..

Let’s Share The Warmth Coat Drive

The Douglas Park Advisory Council and the Riot Fest Foundation are collecting donations of warm clothing for the winter months.

Through the Let’s Share The Warmth Coat Drive, they are asking for coats, scarves, gloves and hats for adults and children. West Siders with new or gently used warm clothing that they no longer need can drop off items at the Douglas Park Fieldhouse, 1401 S. Sacramento Drive.

Donations are also being collected in other neighborhoods at the Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland Ave., and at Concord Music Hall, 2015 N. Milwaukee Ave., through Jan. 5.

Donated coats will be distributed to families living in the area surrounding Douglas Park.

Angel Tree for families with loved ones in prison

As part of its prison ministry program, Celestial Ministries is collecting gift donations for families impacted by incarceration.

Their gift drive is part of the Angel Tree program in partnership with Prison Fellowship. The program allows people who are in prison to sign up to send a gift to family members so that children can still feel the love and warmth of their parents on Christmas morning even when they are hundreds of miles away.

“It’s just love. Showing them that mom or dad didn’t forget about them, and they are loved by their parents, regardless of them being away,” said Antoinette Ratliff, Celestial Ministries co-founder.

The ministry has a list of 900 children with parents who are incarcerated, and they are looking for donors to fulfill gift lists made by the kids.

Those interested in donating gifts to Celestial Ministries can contact Ratliff at aratliff@celestialmin.org. Gifts can also be dropped off at the Celestial Ministries office, 2149 S. Drake Ave.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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