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Holiday Toy Drives Are Collecting Gifts For Chicago Families In Need: ‘It’s Good For People To See That Somebody Cares’

Here’s how you can spread holiday cheer to families who are struggling right now.

Toys are ready to be gifted during Kidz Korna’s 16th Annual Winter Wonderland Giveaway Driveby & Tour at 6530 S. Parnell Ave. in Englewood on Dec. 17, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The holiday season can be a challenging time for many families, but Chicagoans are already working to brighten people’s spirits by collecting gifts and clothing for neighbors in need.

The owners of Wicker Park’s Helendora Samuels Picture Framing, 1736 W. North Ave, have been “spreading the love” for the past five years by distributing toys and winter clothing to families in Austin through their annual holiday drive. 

“I love to see the joy in the children’s faces, the moms looking like they’ve finally found a little relief, that they don’t have to struggle to get a whole lot of stuff since they’ve already got a few things,” co-owner Helendora Samuels said. 

Credit: Provided//Helendora Samuels
The Samuels with volunteers at their annual holiday toy giveaway in 2020.

Samuels said she understands how difficult the holiday season can be after growing up in a single-parent household and raising her three sons on her own. 

“I feel like I’ve got to go back and help the Austin neighborhood because it’s the village that raised me,” Samuels said. 

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Although toy trends change every year, Samuels and her husband Tommy said kids tend to reach for baby dolls, sturdy construction trucks, train sets, LeapFrogs and board games. The Samuels also collect gift cards for older kids who prefer to shop for themselves. 

“When the kids pick up books and coloring books, that always impresses me the most because these kids have got stories to tell too,” Samuels said. “You want things that will help their little minds continue to grow.” 

Block Club has rounded up holiday drives throughout Chicago collecting gifts and other supplies. This is not an exhaustive list, and it will be updated to reflect the many holiday toy drives happening across the city this month.

See a toy drive we’re missing? Email us at newsroom@blockclubchi.org and give us the details.

“It’s good for people to see that somebody cares, that somebody is doing something to try to help them,” Samuels said. 

Auburn Gresham

Multiple local organizations are collecting toys to give away during the neighborhood’s annual tree-lighting ceremony 4-7 p.m. Dec. 17. at Auburn Park, 79th Street and Throop Street.

Austin

The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago is hosting a toy drive 10 a.m. Dec. 16 at 819 N. Leamington St. People can buy gifts for youths 0-17 years old and bring them to the office’s event to wrap them for the holidays. More information here.

Bronzeville

The 4th Ward Office partnered with the Chicago Park District and other organizations to host a toy drive 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 10. at Ellis Park, 3520 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

There will also be plenty of activities for families at the event, including ornament and cookie making, arts and crafts, pictures with Santa and more. 

Toys can be dropped off at the park through Dec. 12, according to organizers

Chatham

The non-profit That Harper Kid, which is dedicated to providing resources to kids throughout the city, will be giving away toys 3-6 p.m. Dec. 17. at Shine Bright Community Center, 8560 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
Toy donations can be dropped off at Succezz Shoe Store, 2214 S. Michigan Ave., until Dec. 16.
Click here to see some of the gifts kids are hoping for. 

Chez Smith, founder of Gyrls In The H.O.O.D. Foundation, a South Side nonprofit that mentors and supports young women, is raising funds again this year to buy winter gear and care packages ahead of the holidays. 
With every $150 H.O.O.D Angel Sponsorship — which stands for healthy, optimistic, outstanding, determined — young women will receive winter boots, a vista gift card, and a personal note of encouragement from the donor. You can sign up to donate here.

East Garfield Park

The Breakthrough Christmas Store collects donated gifts from neighbors and sells them at deep discounts for East Garfield Park families.

Neighbors can drop off unwrapped gifts 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Breakthrough FamilyPlex, 3219 W. Carroll Ave.

Items that can be donated include toys, books, clothes, electronics, personal care supplies and home goods. Here’s a list of ideas. The deadline for dropping off gifts is Dec. 15. 

You also can buy gifts off the organization’s registries on Amazon and Target, which will be sent directly to the West Side nonprofit. People can also donate money for Breakthrough to buy gifts for the Christmas Store.

This year’s market is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 17 at Breakthrough FamilyPlex.

Credit: Breakthrough
Breakthrough is looking for items including toys, books, clothes, electronics, personal care supplies, home goods and more to be donated for it’s annual Christmas Store event.

Edgewater

People can drop off unwrapped gifts at 5757 N. Ridge Ave. as part of a drive organized by Dorothy Holmes, whose son, Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, police killed.

Englewood

Servants For Hope founder Deonte Tanner will celebrate his seventh annual Holiday Giveaway 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 17 at 63rd and Justine Street.

The nonprofit that serves low-income families in marginalized communities hopes to raise $15,000 to purchase gifts for Englewood families. About 1,500 children, including students from Earle Elementary School, have already signed up for the gift giveaway. Any dollar amount is appreciated, but Tanner is asking for $50 donations to provide winter essentials, toys, educational materials and wellness gear for children in his community. You can donate here.

Far Northwest Side

Toys for Tots is collecting toys throughout December at a few local bars. Drop off unwrapped gifts at Thirsty Tavern, 5368 N Milwaukee Ave., Teasers, 7123 W. Higgins Road., or Draft Bar, 8221 W. Irving Park Road. 

Portage Park

Indie news show Chicago Corner is hosting a food and toy drive 5-10 p.m. Dec. 23 at Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road. Anyone who brings a shelf-stable canned good or a new, unwrapped toy will get free admission to the evening’s double feature showing of “Home Alone” and “Solstice” starting at 7 p.m.

Food and toys will be delivered on Christmas Eve to the Chicagoland Toy Drive and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Near North Side

A mother who’s 9-year-old son Janari Ricks was killed in July 2020 is collecting gifts to give away in his honor for the third year in a row. 

The 1 Jar Foundation, a non-profit Jalisa Ford founded to support the Near North Side after her son’s death, is collecting new, unwrapped toys, coats, cold-weather garments, snacks, beverages and gift cards through Dec. 16. 

People can find out the dropoff location by emailing 1jarfoundation@gmail.com. People can also support the effort online by shopping the toy drive’s Amazon wish list or donating to its GoFundMe.

The toys will be given away Dec. 17 at Holy Family Lutheran Church, 524 W. Hobbie St.

North Center

People can drop off unwrapped gifts at 1917 W. Berenice Ave. as part of a drive organized by Dorothy Holmes, whose son, Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, police killed.

North Lawndale

The KT’s Kids holiday toy drive will benefit young patients at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Health System in North Lawndale. More than 200 patients and their families and siblings are invited to a holiday party at the hospital later this month where they will open their presents, enjoy pizza and a DJ, play adaptive games and meet Santa.
You can buy gifts off the Amazon wishlist and they will be sent to the hospital. Deadline for gift donations is Dec. 18. Monetary donations to KT’s Kids will support programs throughout the year. Learn more here.

Rogers Park

Communities Partnering for Peace and ONE Northside are collecting toys for kids impacted by gun violence. 

Gifts including toys, books, tablets, board games and gift cards must be dropped off by Dec. 10. It’s helpful to wrap the gifts, but it’s okay if they’re unwrapped. Email LBDFA@hotmail.com for the address. 

Families can receive the gifts 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 10 at 4648 N. Racine Ave. 

Roseland

Roseland Community Hospital, 45 W. 111th St., is giving away toys from 10 a.m.-noon Dec. 17. It’s too late to register to receive a gift at the event, but still some time left to donate. To sponsor a family or make a donation, contact cflanagan@roselandhospital.org or call 773-291-1820. 

Nonprofit Another Chance is organizing its sixth Operation Cover Chicago gift giveaway 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at 9550 S. Harvard Ave. Leaders are trying to raise enough money to give out 25,000 gifts to kids ages 3-12. You can contribute to the group’s GoFundMe here until Dec. 15.

Uptown

Kids who are impacted by gun violence can also pick up gifts collected by Communities Partnering for Peace and ONE Northside 2-4 p.m. Dec. 10. at 6415 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Gifts including toys, books, tablets, board games and gift cards must be dropped off by Dec. 10. It’s helpful to wrap the gifts, but it’s OK if they’re unwrapped. Email LBDFA@hotmail.com for the address.

People can drop off unwrapped toys at 800 W. Buena Ave. as part of a drive organized by Dorothy Holmes, whose son, Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, police killed.

Wicker Park

Toys, winter clothing and gift cards can be dropped off 12:30-3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday throughout December at Helendora Samuels Picture Framing, 1736 W. North Ave.

New clothing is preferred in order to prevent children from getting sick, though the Samuels will accept clean, used clothing for adults. They’re especially in need of toy donations because Toys for Tots declined to contribute to their drive this year due to high demand. 

Anyone who brings a donation will receive 20 percent off their framing order. 

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