An 8-year-old girl reacts to a Barbie doll on the last day of the Nourishing Hope Toy Drive. (All photos by Pratyush Swarup for Nourishing Hope)
At the Sheridan Market on a recent afternoon, the vibe was merry and bright.
Children eagerly waited in line with their parents. Holiday classics blasted from the stereo. Decorative snowflakes festooned the walls by the front counter. Upstairs, there was a room chock full of toys — tables and shelves lined with LEGO sets, Barbies, books, footballs and countless other delights.
It was the final day of the Nourishing Hope Toy Drive, an annual event that brings joy to hundreds of families struggling to make ends meet.
“When families walk into the toy room, they have the biggest smiles,” said Aliya Prescott, Nourishing Hope’s director of donor and volunteer engagement. “It brings me so much happiness to see our neighbors leave with so much hope and excitement to bring a toy home for their loved ones.”
This year, more than 550 children received toys through the Nourishing Hope Toy Drive. The toy drive also gives some relief to families faced with mounting bills and, potentially, holiday heartache.
For Ruby Davis, 68, this holiday season was especially difficult. Almost exactly one year ago, her daughter Charlene died from diabetes.
Typically, Davis decorates her apartment with pride. She just couldn’t do it this year.
“I ain’t too much in the spirit,” Davis said.
But she wanted to make sure her grandchildren had something to open on Christmas. So she visited the toy distribution for her 7-year-old grandson — Charlene’s son, a “miracle baby” named Duke — and her 13-year-old great-granddaughter. She even found a chew toy for the family dog.
“I’ve been thinking about giving little gifts to lift their spirits,” Davis said before leaving the pantry. “I’m feeling joyful now.”
The Nourishing Hope Toy Drive dates back to 1998, when a group of Lakeview neighbors — in partnership with Lakeview Pantry — organized the effort to ensure children had presents to open for the holidays. In 2010, the effort was rededicated to honor the memory of Vincent Babiarz, a young boy who died in a tragic accident.
Nourishing Hope continues to partner with the Babiarz family to keep the toy drive going and to honor Vincent’s life and memory by bringing joy to children in need.
This year’s toy drive also sparked some festive joy for families just recently arriving in Chicago from other countries. Only two months ago, Maira Muñoz, 38, and her family made the arduous journey from Venezuela. For now, they’re staying at a nearby shelter.
Oscari, Muñoz’s 3-year-old daughter, bounded around the toy room with unabashed delight.
Her brother Fabian, 7, wasn’t there with them; he was in school. But suffice to say, he’s in for a holiday surprise.
“Gracias por esta pequeña alegría,” Muñoz said. “Thank you for this small joy.”