LAKE FOREST — Fill a Heart 4 Kids has been providing holiday gift bags and greetings to youngsters in group homes for a decade, and each year the Lake Forest-run organization receives dozens of additional requests. For Valentine’s Day 2017 the demand has grown even more, and the organization needs help preparing treats for 880 youngsters.
“They need love,” Annie McAveeney, the group’s founder and a Lake Forest resident. “These kids need to experience random acts of kindness. They need to be remembered on Valentine’s Day. We’re the ones who come in and love them.”
McAveeney said she has plenty of love to give the children Fill a Heart 4 Kids serves, but she needs more people to help her get the cards and gift bags they deliver to the homes. She said there are 550 youngsters on the waiting list.
“It takes a lot of help,” said McAveeney. “We are under a serious crunch mode for Project Valentine. We need to fill 880 ‘We Care’ packages and and hand deliver them to children to fill their hearts with love.”
What McAveeney said she needs most to ensure the children have a loving Valentine’s Day is personalized cards, crayons, snacks, Chapstick, fun gift items like sports stress balls, water bottles, nail polish, hair accessories, lip gloss and more.
“What would really be fun for the kids if they got a McDonald’s gift card,” said McAveeney. “The people in this community really care about the children in our program and they want to make sure they feel loved and remembered.”
Donations are also welcome, according to McAveeney.
“Our all-volunteer board goes to great lengths to make sure the gift bags are even,” said McAveeney.
McAveeney said many of the children are homeless because those charged with their care did not measure up. She said it is getting harder for the homes to care for youngsters because state funding is becoming sparser, mainly because of Illinois’ own financial issues.
“They are abused by their parents,” said McAveeney. “When they get into foster homes they are abused again. In the children’s homes they feel safe but they need love.”
McAveeney said the idea for Fill A Heart was inspired by her daughters when Lilly McAveeney was 10 and Ellarie McAveeney was 14. McAveeney said her family was caring for a child but it came time for the youngster to leave. Lilly was sad. They did something about it.
“We made cards and got gifts,” said McAveeney. “We bagged them up and delivered them to a children’s home in Chicago. There are so many around. Then my older daughter said, ‘what are the children going to do on Easter.’”
Fill a Heart 4 Kids was born. McAveeney said it grew from serving 48 in beginning. She said with additional funding and volunteers more will be added, and that consistency is important. It cannot be only once a year.
“We do something every six or seven weeks,” said McAveeney. “You have to keep showing them the love. We’re there for Valentine’s Day, Easter, the end of school and other times. Sometimes we take them to a movie.”
The organization has moved from the McAveeney home to Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, and groups including Scouts and others come in to help package things. McAveeney said it has become an assembly line of love and caring.
“They make a card, write a message and attach it to the bag,” said McAveeney. “We fill it with things like crayons, colored pencils, candy, snacks and art supplies. These are things the homes just can’t provide anymore. We want them to feel the sweetness.”
Click here to learn more about Fill a Heart 4 Kids on its website.