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The Need For 'Christmas For Kids' Has Doubled

Packing supplies
Mike Matejka
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Volunteers get ready for the 38th annual children’s Christmas party for low-income families, a labor union and management joint effort.";

For 38 years, the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce have sponsored the “Christmas for Kids” party for low-income families. This year looked a little different due to COVID-19.

Regional Manager and LIUNA General Executive Board member John Penn said they have not seen this level of response and need since their first year, which was during a recession.

This year, the Normal Meijer store donated more than $1,000 in toys.

“It’s an unprecedented number, but we really appreciate them coming in with that donation. We normally purchase the toys ahead of time, but the number just grew so fast on us we reached out to local businesses and they definitely responded to our callout,” said Penn. 

Normally, about 350 to 375 children participate. This year, 297 families have registered with 794 children.

Thousands of people have lost their jobs in Bloomington-Normal due to the pandemic.

“The need is great this year and we certainly appreciate all the donations and volunteers who are going to brighten Christmas for area families this year,” said McLean County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Charlie Moore.

The event used to be held at Bloomington High School with games, arts and crafts, music and a visit from Santa. On Saturday, the “Christmas for Kids” event was held at the Midwest Food Bank where toys and food baskets were distributed. 

“We will have some things in the baskets for the kids candy canes, veggies and fruits for the young kids,” said Penn. 

All participants were required to register in advance.

Multiple local businesses and unions donated funds and recruited volunteers.

Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly represents all 33 McLean County local unions and 14 building and trades unions. 

“The callout went to all of our sister, brother unions,” said Penn. 

Penn said the community sees the need and is coming together. 

“Actually, on the volunteers we asked some of them not to come. We’ve had an overwhelming response. We’re afraid we have more volunteers than we have jobs for them,” said Penn. 

The Pantagraph’s Goodfellow Fund is joining the effort this year and had gift cards available for registered participants, and has purchased winter hats and gloves.

Penn said the partnership between the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly is a great thing for the community. 

“We were hoping the numbers would go down where someday we wouldn’t have to do this, but that’s not going to be the case,” said Penn. “It’s been a great partnership and something to give back to the community.”

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