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Holiday Giving Guide

The holidays are an especially difficult time for people who are in need of food, shelter, friendship and a helping hand. Neighborhood organizations are reaching out with a variety of collections and programs. Read more to see how you can help. 

Holiday Food Drive. Donations of canned goods and non-perishable food items for the Maple Morgan Park Community Food Pantry can be dropped off weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Dec. 1 through 15 at the 19th Ward Office, 10400 S. Western. The Food Pantry is also seeking monetary donations, which can be mailed to Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry, 11030 S. Longwood Dr., Chicago IL 60643.  Donations of $15 or more will provide a turkey dinner for local families. Each month, the Food Pantry serves about 1,200 families from the 60643 and 60655 zip codes. When you’re out stocking up for the holidays, consider buying something extra for a neighborhood family in need or writing a check to provide a holiday dinner with all the fixings.

Hops for the Homeless. Horse Thief Hollow, 10426 S. Western, will host Hops for the Homeless raising funds Franciscan Outreach services for Chicago’s homeless, Wed., Dec. 6, 7 to 10 p.m. Admission, $40 (advance) or $45 (door), includes beverages, food, music by These Old Men They Play Records, a silent auction and raffle. Bring in new hats or gloves in exchange for raffle ticket. Order tickets/make a donation www.franoutreach.org/hops.

Children’s Book Drive. Donate used children’s books in good condition through Fri., Dec. 8 at the 19th Ward Office, 10400 S. Western. The book drive is co-sponsored by Ald. Matt O’Shea and Open Books, a non-profit organization that funds literacy programs by selling donated books. Info about Open Books: www.open-books.org. Info about the collection: mattoshea@the19thward.com.

Share the Harvest. Grace Seeds Ministry is a “greenhouse” for the seeds of God’s love, justice and peace that are germinating in us, in our communities and in the world God loves. Morgan Park Presbyterian Church is a partner in Share the Harvest, Grace Seeds Ministry’s food pantry program, which inspires congregations to grow fresh produce in their gardens then donate the harvest to food pantries across Chicago. To participate in growing produce next season, call the church office, 773-779-3355.  To make a tax deductible donation to Grace Seeds Ministry, send cash or check to Grace Seeds Ministry, PO Box 1378, Bedford Park, IL  60499-1378. Info: graceseedsministry.org.

Snowball Party and Collection. 22nd District Police CAPS beat facilitators are collecting funds, gift cards, school materials and personal grooming items for its 2nd annual holiday party to benefit the families of 10 homeless kids who attend elementary schools in our district, Sat., Dec. 9, 1:30 p.m., at the Station, 1900 W. Monterey Ave.  Officers work with local school principals to select families and invite them to the luncheon with police, pastors, principals and community volunteers. On the night before the luncheon, local students transform the room to a winter wonderland at a holiday tree decorating party. Individuals and businesses are welcome to contribute gifts and necessities such as toiletries, household cleaning items, coats, bath items and more. For info on how you can help, call the 22nd District CAPS office, 312-745-0620.

Cheers for Charity. The 9th Annual Cheers for Charity Christmas Party will be held Thurs., Dec. 21. 7 to 10 p.m., Cork and Kerry, 10614 S. Western, raising funds to help local families in need. $40 minimum donation. The needy families are suggested by local charitable organizations, and their identities are kept private. The party raises funds to give the families a chance to enjoy the holiday season.

Help for the Homeless.  Carly Carney of Beverly Yoga Center, 1917 W. 103rd St., 2nd floor, is collecting men’s warm winter coats and blankets for the Lower Wacker Mission for the Homeless. Donations may be dropped off anytime in front of the studio on the second floor. Info: beverlyyogacenter@gmail.com or 773-239-9642.

Angel Babies. Marlene’s Angel Babies Foundation accepts donations of wedding dresses that are deconstructed to become burial attire for babies who are stillborn or have died in infancy.  The foundation operates citywide; the local representative Mikki Carping, 708-906-0327.

The Blue House. The Catholic Youth Ministry Center at Morgan Park High School, 1825 W. Monterey Ave., more commonly known as The Blue House, is the only program of its kind associated with a Chicago Public High School, providing a “home away from home” where there is always someone for students to talk to. Volunteers can help by presenting Career Exploration Workshops, or facilitating interactive educational workshops on topics such as college essays and applications, money management and social media safety. Plumbers, electricians and handymen are always needed to help maintain the old house. Info: Peggy Goddard, 773-881-0193

I Am Who I Am Foundation. Teens and adults with special abilities who package, label and create artwork, and sell I am . . . bath and body products for the I Am Who I Am Foundation, receive a percentage of the sales.  The non-profit organization advocates for people with special needs. I Am . . . products are available at Murray’s Browse and Brew, 3545 W. 99th St., and www.iam-whoiam.com.

Morgan Park Junior Woman’s Club. Women who care deeply about being of service are invited to learn more about joining the Morgan Park Junior Woman’s Club. The Juniors provide a variety of service and fund raising project throughout the year. On Dec. 8, Club members will provide a luncheon for Department of Veterans’ Affairs Vet Center at 87th and Kedzie.   On Dec. 16, the club is participating in Wreaths Across America, a nationwide initiative to, on the same day at the same time, lay wreaths on at the graves of fallen soldiers in military cemeteries.  They will lay wreaths at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery.  This month the club will visit the Family Rescue Woman’s Shelter on the East side to present Holiday Gift Bags; collecting treats and paperbacks to send overseas to military troops; and organizing the Work Out to Wipe Out Domestic Violence event that will be held ton Mar. 24 to benefit A New Direction Beverly Morgan Park. Info: Cynthia Heywood, cahg927@yahoo.com.

Friends of the Forest Preserves. Friends of the Forest Preserves is the only independent non-profit organization solely focused on the Forest Preserves of Cook County. They are the voice of a diverse community inspiring and organizing people to protect, restore, and expand the forest preserves in Cook County. Through political advocacy, ecological stewardship, and community engagement, they ensure the forest preserves will always be a source of education, enjoyment, and recreation. Locally they are stewards of Dan Ryan Woods, working on invasive species removal and improving the trails. Donations will help fund conservation and outreach programs. Info: fotfp.org/donate or contact Ilana Federman, ilana@fotfp.org or 312-356-9990.

Business Attire Clothing Drive. Donate new and gently used men’s and women’s business clothing through Dec. 15 at the 19th Ward Office, 10400 S. Western, weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Info: 773-445-8128 or repfranhurley@gmail.com. All items benefit The Find Your Future program which helps young men and women dress for success and land that first job

Restock the Food Pantry Drive. The Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association will host a non-perishable food drive in January to help re-stock the shelves of the Maple/Morgan Park Food Pantry after the holiday season. Collection boxes will be located at various Beverly/Morgan Park businesses and monetary donations will also be accepted. Info: Caroline Connors, 773-779-2530

Benjamin Cox: Friend of the Forest Preserves

By Grace Kuikman

If you’ve enjoyed a day hiking or cross country skiing in Dan Ryan Woods, you can thank Beverly/Morgan Park neighbor Benjamin Cox and the Cook County Friends of the Forest Preserves (FOTFP) for their help in making sure the woods are beautiful, healthy and enjoyable.

The Friends of the Forest Preserves is an advocacy group, composed mostly of volunteers who put their hands and hearts into improving and preserving 69,000 acres of forest preserves throughout Cook County. Dan Ryan Woods is part of about 3,000 acres of forest preserves within Chicago’s city limits. Even though it’s only 257 acres, Dan Ryan Woods is the most heavily used forest preserves in the county.

Cox, now President and CEO of the not-for-profit organization, started working with the Friends when it was all volunteer, and in 2004 became the first paid employee. Today there are 25 FOTFP employees and thousands of volunteers.

“The concept of the forest preserve started in Cook County,” Cox said, adding that the district is more than 100 years old. It’s also the largest Forest Preserve District of any county in the state. “Something we should all celebrate,” Cox said.

Advocacy and Elbow Grease

Broadly, FOTFP advocates for and improves the forest preserves. Cox goes to all FPD board meetings, reviews the budget, and attends other meetings in different counties.

The group does ecological restoration work. Unlike parks and recreation areas, forest preserves are 80% natural, so their emphasis is nature. Removal of invasive species and other restoration and repair work is mostly done by volunteers. The Conservation Corps provides paid summer internships for high school students who want to work on improving the woods, and applications are now available. Work starts in June and leaders age 21 and up who are trained to work with the kids are also needed.

The FOTFP’s work and advocacy results in a terrific pay off for area residents who get to enjoy the peace, beauty and natural wonders of the forest preserves, as well as activities such as horseback riding, biking, rock climbing walls, fishing and camping – there are five campsites + cabins in Cook County.

Forest Preserve Gateway

Dan Ryan Woods is one of about a dozen locations being reactivated as gateway sites with visitor centers and activities to attract people to learn more about and use the forest preserves. Improvements supported by FOTFP are already in place.

At Dan Ryan Woods, a warming house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at the bottom of the toboggan slide during the Great Depression had fallen into disrepair and was boarded up. Cox brought the site to the attention of Forest Preserve District officials and suggested that the building be refurbished. Now it’s open and can be rented out for parties. The underpass that provides for safe transit under 87th Street has also been fixed up, and plans call for a visitor center there.

Dan Ryan Woods Volunteers

Cox and Larry Unruh are trained Volunteer Leaders, and they have lead the volunteer efforts in removing invasive species in Dan Ryan Woods for many years, working work mostly on about 110 acres south of 87th Street.  Cox explained that unlike parks and other recreation areas, 80% of the forest preserves are woods. For many years, the District didn’t do much to control plant life, but as the surrounding populations grew, non-native plants began to seed the woods, carried in by birds, on people’s clothes and other ways. Some of those plants grew unchecked, choking out the sun and creating thick, thorny growth. According to Cox, you should be able to see sky through trees. That open forest scape is returning because of all the volunteers’ hard work. “As we’ve opened up the woods, we’ve seen a lot more people using them,” Cox said. He’s pleased because, “nature is good for your soul.”

How to Help

FOTFP holds volunteer workdays 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of the month year around, and whether they can come once, occasionally or all the time, help from area residents makes a difference. Persons who want to make a bigger impact can be trained as volunteer leaders or even micro-stewards. Training for certification is provided; certifications cover a wide range of interests from seed collecting to leading work groups to using herbicides.

“Forest Preserve District volunteers have endless learning opportunities and ways to specialize as ‘citizen scientists,” Cox said. Special skills are not required, he added, using himself as an example: “I have a journalism degree and a passion for nature.”

Look for information on the FOTFP volunteer recruitment day as well as their annual wildflower walk this spring. FOTFP membership starts $25 a year and helps to insure that citizens have a voice in making sure our forest preserves last for another 100 years. Info: www.fotfp.org, benjamin@fotfp.org or 312-356-9990.