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Orland Park group plays Santa to thousands of Southland kids

Michelle Maxi(left) director Toy Box Connectivolunteer Desiree Owen (right) lead promotions manager for 94.3 K-LOVE radio wrap gifts for families

Michelle Maxia (left), director of Toy Box Connection, and volunteer Desiree Owen (right), lead promotions manager for 94.3 K-LOVE radio, wrap gifts for families that will be staying at Ronald McDonald House over the holidays Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, at 4410 W. 93rd St. in Oak Lawn. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Free Gift Wrapping

Volunteers from Toy Box Connection will offer free gift wrapping from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday to patrons of 94 West, 15410 S. 94th Ave., Orland Park, and Limestone City Grill, 13415 Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights.

Volunteers will also provide gift wrapping at the Carson Pirie Scott store in Orland Square Mall from
3 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from noon to 4 p.m. Monday.
Volunteers will be on the upper level near the petites department.

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Updated: January 24, 2013 6:28AM



It started out with a simple idea — gather up used toys that might otherwise get tossed out and put them in the hands of needy kids.

Nearly five years later, Orland Park-based nonprofit The Toy Box Connection plays Santa to thousands of Southland children.

“We’ve distributed 60,000 toys in the last month,” said Michelle Maxia, the organization’s founder.

On Friday, Maxia was helping volunteers wrap donations of new toys that will be given to children whose families will be spending Christmas at Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.

Area Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops held collection drives to get new toys for the home, and Maxia said two truckloads of dolls, games and other toys were brought to the house, literally filling a conference room.

Along with finding wrapped presents under the tree Christmas morning, parents with children who are patients at the hospital had an opportunity to pick out new, unwrapped toys for their kids, Kelly Evans, director of the Oak Lawn Ronald McDonald House, said.

“With all that’s going on in their lives they might not have had time to get out and shop,” she said.

Gifts that aren’t earmarked for families staying at the house will be brought over to the hospital and handed out to children, and some toys will be stashed away for later to be given to patients on their birthdays, Maxia said.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Maxia and her volunteers visit orphanages, homeless shelters and schools in low-income suburbs. They also distributed new toys, also collected by local Scout troops, to area families who have family members serving in the military, she said.

Toy Box Connection began getting deluged with donations in early November, as “families were preparing for new Santa arrivals” and clearing out closets of old toys, Maxia said. While they’re used, most toys the group gets are in “pristine” condition, she said.

As the economy has struggled to regain its footing after the recession, Maxia’s group sees no letup in demand. A barometer she uses to gauge how things are going are the lists from area labor unions asking her organization at Christmastime to provide toys to their unemployed members’ families.

“The list isn’t getting smaller, it’s getting bigger,” Maxia said. “It’s not a huge increase, but you’d think by now it would start to get smaller.”

Fortunately, Maxia said, donations have kept pace with demand.

“We’re keeping alive the gift of giving,” she said.

In past years, Maxia said, some toys stashed in Toy Box Connection’s 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Orland Park have gone unspoken for. This year, however, the building was emptied.

Seeing that gave Maxia and the volunteers a good feeling.

“We thought, ‘How many kids have we brought Christmas to?’” she said. “We have come together as a community as a moving force of good.”

Maxia said that despite pronouncements of an improving economy, she doesn’t see a lot of evidence of that in the faces of the families Toy Box Connection helps.

“We’re all just going to have to keep helping each other out,” she said. “That’s what makes (the United States) stand out from the rest of the world.”



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