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Economy strains many area charities

Donations about the same, but demand is up locally

Vicki Deter places donated toys into the Toys For Tots bins set up in front of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon in Sterling. People interested in donating to Sauk Valley Toys for Tots also can visit its website at
Vicki Deter places donated toys into the Toys For Tots bins set up in front of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon in Sterling. People interested in donating to Sauk Valley Toys for Tots also can visit its website at

STERLING – Some local charitable organizations are seeing an increase in need and decreases in funds as they try to get toys into the hands of children in need or otherwise serve people who are struggling.

Jim James is local coordinating officer for Dixon Area Toys for Tots. That organization has received requests to give toys to 600 children in Lee and Ogle counties, double the 300 children from last year, he said.

The economy is the reason, James said.

“A lot of mothers and fathers have lost their jobs,” he said. “It’s turned into a really big issue in Lee and Ogle County.”

Meanwhile, donations to the organization are “about the same” as they were last year, he said.

“We’re doing OK, so far, but the demand has put a lot of stress,” he said. “If we could get more monetary donations, that would be great.”

Sauk Valley Toys for Tots has raised about $20,000 this year. It spent $60,000 on toys last year. The organization tries to provide two to three toys to each child it serves.

Almost 3,000 children are signed up so far this year, which coordinator Paula Chavez says is “pretty average for this time.” Last year the organization served 4,800 children in Whiteside County alone.

Chavez said she thinks the need this year will be about the same as last year.

“I don’t think the economy has turned around much,” she said.

The economy also has led to decreased fundraising, she added.

The Salvation Army has teamed up with Sauk Valley Toys for Tots this year. The Salvation Army is providing food boxes and clothing for families, while the Toys for Tots branch provides toys in Operation Holiday Hope.

Earth Angels is an organization based in Mount Morris that gives toys to children in need.

The Mount Morris Moose Lodge had a fundraiser in July, which brought in $1,000 for Earth Angels. Private contributions have amounted to about $350.

Last year’s efforts raised about $500, Director Linda Straith said. Straith requires a few thousand dollars every year just to get the project started, she said.

It served 1,169 children last year, and Straith expects about the same level of need this year. About 200 already are signed up.

Mount Morris still is reeling from the May 2011 closure of Quad Graphics and the loss of Kable News jobs, which affected about 2,000 families, she said.

“Jobs are scarce,” she said. “We are struggling to get back on our feet.”

The Salvation Army in Sterling has increased its annual goal by $25,000 to $125,000 because of an increase in need in the community, Lt. Cindy Marquis said. The number of people receiving food from The Salvation Army tripled from June to September, she said.

The group had raised about $10,000 by Nov. 17, which was about 8 percent more than that time last year. But with increased need, “we’re behind where we need to be,” she said.

“What we raise at Christmas is about 75 percent of our annual income, so it’s really incredibly important that we make our Christmas goal,” she said.

The Salvation Army’s Christmas effort pays, entirely or partly, for all of its yearlong assistance programs for people in need, such as its emergency food pantry, water bill assistance, and help with personal care items.

Long stretches of unemployment have taken their toll on the community, Marquis said.

The organization is short of volunteers. There aren’t enough bell ringers to fill the two shifts a day at 12 locations, and fewer groups are volunteering to ring bells than in the past.

“We have spots that have been open just because we don’t have anybody to put there,” she said.

About 20 to 22 ringers have signed up, she said.

Sauk Valley Food Bank, which supplies local food pantries, has seen donations of money and food “coming in very strongly,” Director Carol Siefken said.

“I don’t like to talk about the amount of money, but it’s been very substantial, and it’s been shared with the pantries,” she said.

The food bank has received thousands of pounds of food over the past month and a half, which is about the same amount that was collected last year, and monetary donations have been about the same as last holiday season, she said.

“Donations really pick up heavily during November and December because people are thinking of other people,” she said.

Siefken said the food bank and the food pantries are going to try to make sure those in need have chicken and enough gifts for children “so that everyone has a Merry Christmas.”

But there is more need this holiday season than last, she said.

For St. Vincent de Paul Society’s food pantry, the holidays usually are the busiest time of year, Vice President Paul Hess said.

Need has been greater this year than last, he said. In October 2011, the pantry served about 32 families, but it served 52 this October, he said.

“The shelves are a little bit bare, but we seem to keep going.”

To help

Dixon Area Toys for Tots

Make monetary donations to Dixon Area Toys for Tots, c/o Jim James, 464 Pine Hill Drive No. 8, Dixon, IL 61021.

Sauk Valley Toys for Tots

Toy collection boxes are at Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, 211 Locust St., Sterling; Sterling Moose Family Center, 2601 E. Lincolnway; and Pete Harkness Auto Mall, 2811 Locust St., Sterling and 627 E. Lincolnway, Morrison, among other places.

If you are interested in helping sort and stack toys, starting today at Northland Mall, sign up at the mall or call Paula Chavez, 779-245-0086.

Donations also can be made at Donors can specify Dixon Area Toys for Tots, which serves Lee and Ogle counties, or Sauk Valley Toys for Tots, which serves Whiteside County.

The Salvation Army

Go to or call 815-625-1622.

Earth Angels

Call Linda Straith, 815-291-7757. Donations can be made to the Earth Angel Fund at Forreston State Bank, 202 E. Main S., Forreston. Help also is needed Dec. 15 at Mount Morris Senior Center, 9 E. Front St.

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