ENGLEWOOD — Christmastime at I Grow Chicago’s Peace House is a little different this year.
The living room at 6402 S. Honore St. where Santa greeted neighborhood kids last year has been transformed into a food pantry. The dining room once filled with neighbors enjoying a holiday meal now is piled high with boxes of artificial Christmas trees and gifts, the occasional staff member plucking an item from the pile to deliver to residents waiting outside.
Despite the changes — which now include temperature checks at the door and face masks — the I Grow Chicago team is continuing to serve Englewood families during the holiday season, giving out hundreds of trees and gifts Friday afternoon.
The trees were donated by Lowe’s, Kiehl’s and the Chicago Bears. Thanks to an outpouring of generosity for the toy drive, I Grow Chicago was able to hand out hundreds more gifts this year, executive director Sol Anderson said.
“Last year, we signed up 700 families for gifts, and gave an additional 200 to 300 gifts out to those who didn’t. This time, we had over 1,000 families sign up, and we’re going to give away 200 more gifts,” Anderson said.
While the large gatherings of past years are sorely missed, the West Englewood nonprofit is doing what’s necessary to keep staff, volunteers, and residents safe, opening up the block and blasting holiday tunes to keep people in the spirit, Anderson said.
Neighbors also received a “Made Good In Englewood” box filled with goodies assembled by Something Good In Englewood. The largest giveaway happened Friday but the I Grow Chicago team expects to distribute gifts on a smaller scale until Christmas, Anderson said.
Donors went above and beyond to fulfill Christmas wish lists that included televisions, iPads, PS5s, L.O.L Dolls, and Apple Watches, said Laura Phillips, manager of the organization’s Born To Thrive Program.
“This is the day we have to show up and show out for our kids in the community,” Phillips said. “It’s such a big transitional year for them, and a lot of the things we’ve seen in adults, we’re seeing in the kids. Depression and anxiety because they aren’t able to see their friends, or extended relatives.
“To be able to go down the list and match the gift to the kid who’d been talking about this specific thing all year is great. Our donors really showed up and showed out this year. It means a lot.”