“Pay it forward” has taken a deeper meaning for a few local families this season. During the holiday, families from Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn have started an initiative to help bring cheer to less-fortunate kids living in the Chicago area, and remind deployed soldiers that they are in the hearts of those back home.
Danielle DeCostello, an Oak Lawn resident, said the group is collecting toys for newborns to kids 18 months of age for the pediatric unit. They are also asking for gently-used books, puzzles, new crayons and coloring books for the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital’s pediatric unit in Chicago. Those wishing to participate may drop off toys at , 2700 W. 91st St. through Dec. 19.
“I have a huge soft spot for children and believe every child deserves something, no matter the circumstance,” said DeCostello. In addition to putting smiles on kids' faces at Christmas, DeCostello said it’s a chance to honor her grandmother. “My grandmother passed away at Stroger's on Feb. 14, 2010. She was a huge humanitarian and advocate for the South Shore community. She single-handedly adopted 6 at-risk youth and accepted them as her own. She loved Christmas as well."
Additionally, the group of parents started a “Letters from Home” campaign for local residents to write letters of appreciation and holiday wishes to U.S. Marines serving in Afghanistan. “I thank God everyday for my service men and women,” said DeCostello. “It also helps to have a local hero Luciano Valdez popping up around town to remind of us of why we are home with our loved ones for the holidays.” Valdez, an officer, his wife Jennifer and their family are also participating. He served in the U.S. Marine Corp. during the nineties.
Busy with kids on both sides of Pulaski Avenue, DeCostello said she and fellow givers Metzler, Jennifer Valdez, Lisa Rinearson, Dan Parmer, Courtney Patula and Billy Ryan see this time as a chance to teach their kids the true meaning of the season.
“We wanted our children to understand that Christmas isn't about the amount of gift's under the tree. It is simply about...paying it forward. We may not all be millionaires but every single one of us is rich in love. Our children have food, clothes and a warm roof over their heads so it's about putting a smile on someone else's face,” she said.
The group has created mailboxes and placed them around Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn. Residents may drop off letters to any of the following locations through Dec. 16:
, 9901 S. Kedzie Ave, Evergreen Park
, 9058 S. California Ave., Evergreen Park
, 9901 S. Central Park Ave., Evergreen Park
, 3630 W. 92nd St., Evergreen Park
, 9400 S. Troy Ave., Evergreen Park
Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 Raymond Ave, Oak Lawn
, 4300 W. 108th Pl., Oak Lawn
,10425 S. Kolmar Ave., Oak Lawn
Through the first part of the new year, the group will continue their charitable efforts by collecting care packages for Marines. They are also organizing an event for single mothers around Mother’s Day.
“This is the season for giving. The greatest gift you can give is love,” said DeCostello. "We as society owe it to each other to pay it forward. If the world for a few minutes so everyone as equal and leant a hand we would be a lot better.”