When Excel Automotive Repair set up shop in St. Charles, owners Minor and Jennifer Mobley knew they were in for the long haul. It was a community they loved, and wanted to embrace, not just as customers, but as neighbors and friends. So that first Christmas season they opened Excel – November 2014 – the Mobleys called their children’s elementary school to offer some assistance to local families in need. “We didn’t come from a whole lot ourselves,” Jennifer Mobley explains. “So we reached out to the Wild Rose social worker and asked what the need was. We started that year purchasing bikes for families and small gifts.” The very first Christmas, the Mobley’s helped about 50 local kids. “Each year it just kept growing, from school to school,” she says. That initial effort has turned into Big Hearts of Fox Valley, a 501 C-3, focused on Christmas sponsorship of families and children in St. Charles School District 303. Big Hearts works hand in hand with social workers at the schools, to collect the children’s wish lists direct from the families. Then, Jennifer, who heads up the organizations, rallies neighbors, customers, and other local businesses together to purchase those gifts– clothing, toys and the like – and brighten the holidays for kids across the community. Last year the effort affected children of need from all the District 303 elementary schools and fifty students from each middle school, 443 children in all. This season, there will be no cap on the number of middle school children whose wish lists will be filled, and Mobley estimates they are looking to provide gifts for 700 local kids. The organization is always in need of participants and sponsors to help. Businesses, organizations, neighborhoods, teams, churches and local families have joined the cause, adding needy families to their holiday shopping lists each year. From the sponsors, Big Hearts asks for the purchase of at least three items on each child’s wish list.And from local businesses, in particular, Mobley is hoping for commitments to buy gifts for at least five kids each. Last year, about 60 local businesses joined the effort. But given the jump in demand, Mobley is rallying the community for even more support. “With 700 potential children on the list, I’d liketo double that sponsor number,” she says. “The more businesses that help us out the more we can continue to do.” Mobley estimates a typical child wish list at about $50. Occasionally, an entire family will make a larger request. “It’s amazing what some of our sponsors do – they go above and beyond with what they purchase,” she says. “We had a company step up and buy beds for a whole family. And we had a family step up and give a father with five kids a gaming system and games. “But one sweater and one pair of pants and a small toy, that’s great too,” she says."We need help! We need the community to come together to make this happen year after year, to step up and offer to buy gifts for these kids. The more people that participate, the more kids we can help.” Also monetary donations are accepted. Thisis particularly helpful for purchasing wrapping supplies, last minute wish list items, and in the future, it may help the Big Heart organization reach teens as well, by using funds to buy gift cards for the older children in needy families, often left out of the process. Once all the gifts are purchased and donated, Big Hearts of Fox Valley hosts an “all-hands-on-deck” wrapping party at Excel Automotive. It’s a festive holiday party, and the whole community is invited, so long as you can wrap. Donations to the cause help fund food and drink for wrappers, and volunteers paint faces while a DJ pumps in music to keep everybody cheery. Santa even pays a visit. “We wanted to make it something everybody could do, even if they couldn’t afford to sponsor a child directly,” Mobley says. This year, the wrapping party takes place December 10, from 3-9 p.m. Interested parties must sign up for a shift in advance! Children welcome so long as they are able to “help“ wrap. Looking forward, Mobley says they would like to continue to expand the program, offering a spring event, and something for teens. “We’d like to see other school districts and communities shadow what we do and start them up locally,” she says. If you’d like to sponsor a child, make a donation, or lend a hand wrapping, visit online at https://bigheartsfv.org/ to get started. Additionally, toy collection boxes are set up at each elementary and middle school this year and the St. Charles city building, the Blue Goose Market, fire station, public works building, and Excel Automotive.