As I being typing this, it's about 7:30 on a Friday night. I sit in my living room, knowing that soon - very soon - families will begin gathering, being forming a line. They'll be setting up chairs, greeting the people in front and behind them, soon to be their best friends, and starting to figure out how to work shifts overnight.
They aren't gathering to purchase concert tickets. If only it were that lighthearted! No, they are gathering outside a middle school in suburban Chicago to wait all night outside in frigid temperatures for a chance at being among the first into the school as a part of Barrington Giving Day. Many will have their children with them, as they can't afford babysitters. They will rotate - by agreement with their neighbors - into their cars to warm up for a bit, but regardless of the weather, they aren't going to risk losing their spot in line.
This is their chance to prepare for the winter, and their chance to provide their children with at least a little bit of Christmas. For the past few months, locations all over Barrington and surrounding areas have been collecting for Giving Day. Inside the middle school's gym, there are coats and mittens, toys and games, blankets and food.
Families on free and reduced lunch in the district - and the number grows every year - are invited to the event. Those who attend are able to choose a coat per person in their family, blankets, and a toy or game for each child in the family. They also receive a box of food and hygeine products that for too many is the most they'll have in their house for a long time.
Last year, Barrington Giving Day served 900 families, including 2,500 children. The expectation for this year was north of 3,000 children. The sheer amount of stuff required to make this event possible and the number of volunteers to make it a success is astounding. While I've donated to it for the past several years, I had never experienced it firsthand myself.
This year, I was one of 100 bloggers chosen by Cepia for their Random Acts of Zhu. We were all sent 104 ZhuZhu Pets to donate to a charitable organization of our choice. For me, it didn't take half a second of thought to know which organization I would approach, and the coordinator was thrilled to have them.
I arranged to drop off the ZhuZhu Pets this afternoon directly to the gym, which allowed me to observe the setup. There were more middle schoolers and high schoolers than I've seen in a long time there volunteering, unloading items from the transporting cars and trucks (they are stored offsite until the night before the event, as the school doesn't have a storage location) and unpacking them, placing them neatly in the assigned areas.
Little Miss was proud as a button to be able to help me bring in the boxes of ZhuZhu Pets to turn over to the "Girls 4-8" table of toys (Mister Man was still in school when I dropped these off).
And holy cow was this a much bigger event than I'd ever pictured. While I knew the numbers - 900 families and 2,500 children last year - knowing them in my head and actually seeing the sheer volume of supplies needed to meet the needs of that many people is humbling. I tried to take a few photos to give you a sense of the magnitude - and this was only a small part of the locations. Wow.
I was so happy to be able to contribute (further) to this organization, and I know the ZhuZhu Pets that I was able to provide via Cepia will be truly appreciated. Most of the items donated are new, but many are gently used. And the "hot" toys like ZhuZhu Pets? There aren't too many of them. It warms my heart to be able to provide a smile to 104 children tomorrow morning.
And after seeing the preparation for this in person? Next year, I'll be volunteering my time and not just items. It is humbling to think about how much I have and how much more I can give. I can't think of a better way of spending a Saturday morning in January than to be a "personal shopper" helping them navigate through the school, selecting the items that best fit them.
Thomas and Friends Adventure on Misty Island Mega Blocks set here
Lawry's Complete Meal Ideas Gift Pack with casserole here
The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer DVD with 2 winners here
In the interest of full disclosure, I was sent the 104 ZhuZhu Pets to donate. I received no compensation or product myself.