May 24, 2024
Local News

Goodfellows tradition continues, grows

DeKalb/Sycamore chapter hands out gifts, new Genoa group begins

SYCAMORE – Christmas Eve wouldn’t feel the same for Alex Hueber-Walsh if she didn’t get up at 6:30 a.m. to drive around handing out presents.

The bustling crowd at Blumen Gardens on Wednesday morning was proof that Hueber-Walsh and her dozen family members had plenty of company in their altruistic holiday tradition.

Hueber-Walsh was one of hundreds of volunteers gathered for the DeKalb/Sycamore Goodfellows’ annual Christmas Eve morning gift distribution. For many, the event marks the start of Christmas every year. But for some, this year was the start of a new custom they hope to carry out year after year.

“We all just get into the Christmas spirit with giving,” Hueber-Walsh said. “I live in Florida now, but I would not miss it. I would drive if I could not catch a flight. I would be here."

Every year, the DeKalb/Sycamore Goodfellows distribute hundreds of Christmas gifts throughout the two communities. This year, the group reached 897 children and 349 families, board member Sandy Lancaster said. This year’s distribution was down by about 20 children compared to the past year, she said.

The group works with local school districts and the area’s Women, Infant and Children, Community Coordinated Child Care and Head Start programs to find children who need clothes. The Goodfellows then enlist personal shoppers at JCPenney to pick out about $35 worth of clothing for each child.

Volunteers wrap the presents a few weeks before the gift distribution Christmas Eve morning.

Lancaster said she’s been involved in the group – in existence since the late 1920s – for close to 30 years. She’s said she’s stayed involved because she knows there’s a need in the community, and she likes that the group is able to put every one of the roughly $35,000 dollars donated or raised through the group’s annual Christmas party into buying gifts for local children.

She has stayed behind to coordinate the gift distribution for a few years, but she remembers one year she delivered a present to a woman living in a trailer at Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park.

“She grabs me and hugs me and says, ‘Feliz Navidad,’ ” Lancaster said. “I looked around at the home and I thought, ‘This is the only present this child is going to get.’ ”

First-time volunteer Dori De La Cruz said she was inspired to help because she knew some children at Founders Elementary School, where’s she a social worker, had received presents through the program. So she showed up Wednesday with her children in tow.

“I wanted to be part of giving back,” De La Cruz said. “But I wanted to show my kids that it’s good to give back, too.”

Meanwhile, in Genoa, Kate Appleby was watching a year’s worth of work come together in a flurry of activity. The Genoa-Kingston Goodfellows held their first gift distribution at 8 a.m. Wednesday at Custom Aluminum in Genoa.

Appleby, her fiancé Bart Lawson, and Pat and Georgann Felvey shadowed the DeKalb/Sycamore Goodfellows for a year before launching their own nonprofit group. In its inaugural year, the Genoa group brought gifts to 60 families and 163 children, Appleby said. They raised around $6,600 through their Christmas party to use toward next year’s gifts.

“All of our volunteers came back and said they had a really wonderful experience,” Appleby said. “It’s been overwhelming and emotional. It’s so wonderful. It’s a whole community effort.”