Saturday, volunteers from the American Legion and American Legion Ladies Auxiliary will don their elf hats, warm smiles and holiday spirit and help Veteran patients of the Lovell FHCC do some early holiday shopping.
About 60 volunteers from several local chapters will escort long-term care Veteran residents from “Freedom Square,” the facility’s Community Living Center (CLC), to nearby Bourke Hall for the annual American Legion and Auxiliary Christmas Gift Shop.
Once there, Veterans will peruse long tables covered with donated toys, purses, watches, towels and other items to select presents for loved ones and friends. At another table, volunteers will wrap the gifts, and each Veteran will also have the chance to pick out and sign holiday cards.
And at the last stop, volunteers will package the gifts for mailing. The postage also is donated. The merchandise, and postage, is purchased from money raised by American Legions and Auxiliary chapters across the state of Illinois. Similar gift shop events are held at all Veterans Affairs hospitals in the state.
“The American Legion and Auxiliary are about helping Veterans, and this helps them do their shopping, but it also is part of their rehabilitation to come here and pick out gifts,” said Sandy Nys, who has volunteered at the facility for decades, starting when she was a child singing Christmas carols in the hallways.
“This means a lot to them,” said Nys, a member of the Gurnee American Legion Ladies Auxiliary. “I remember when my Dad was here one year. We helped him pick out a towel set for my Mom at home, and she cried when she opened the package.”
When they are done shopping for family and friends, the Veterans get to stop by “Elf Corner” to get a little something for themselves, courtesy of the Lake Region Fox Lake Unit 703, of the Auxiliary. This is the third year for Elf Corner. The women will get comfortable slippers. The men get underwear and socks, and all get toiletries.
“They are here shopping for their family members, but we wanted them to get a gift, too,” said volunteer Linda Regalado, who is the VA & R (Veterans Administration and Rehabilitation) Chairman for Unit 703. She noted that after the shop closes, volunteers take the elf gifts to the CLC residents who were unable to attend.
“I like this because you get to see the looks on their faces,” Regalado said. “You can see for yourself the good your money, and effort, does.”
Friday found Nys, Regalado and another long-time volunteer Karen Nelson hauling cartloads of items to the hall, then unloading and displaying each item with care.
Nelson, from the Libertyville Auxiliary, also has volunteered at the North Chicago medical facility for decades. Helping Veterans is a family affair for both Nelson and Nys. Nelson’s mother volunteered in the “clothing room,” and Nys said her mother helped wherever she was needed. Nys’ husband also volunteers.
“The Veterans are so appreciative,” Nelson said. “They come in and say, ‘I can’t afford this,’ and then we tell them it won’t cost them anything … and their families are so grateful, too. It’s just unbelievable the letters we get, thanking us.”
Nelson said the event is her chance to handle toddler toys and “baby dolls,” something she looks forward to doing more of now that her grandchildren have started having babies.
About 200 CLC residents signed up to participate, but likely several more of the remaining 100 residents will “walk in” said the volunteers. “We’ll be ready for them. We have plenty of things for them to choose from,” Nys said.