Shopping for Christmas presents is something most families take for granted. But for others struggling with job loss or other issues, it can be something they only dream about.
The Grayslake Police Department worked to make those dreams come true. The department, along with the Grayslake Kiwanis Club, hosted a Shop with a Cop program on Dec. 19. The event provided Christmas presents and a full turkey dinner to 33 local families in need. The turkey dinners were provided by Piggly Wiggly in Grayslake.
Each child received a $100 gift card that they got to spend as they choose at the Gurnee Target, accompanied by a Grayslake police officer. The program also gave officers a chance to build up positive interactions with area families.
"It meant a lot to me," said Bertha Muldowney of Hainesville, whose 9-year-old daughter Allie got to Shop with a Cop. "To have my little one have a big smile on her face..."
She paused, choked with emotion, and hugged her daughter tightly as they stood outside the Grayslake Police Station.
"That is really good. I am so grateful the officers could help us," Muldowney said.
She will be losing her job on Dec. 31.
"I don't know what I would have done without this," she said. "I am still hoping for the best. But seeing my daughter smile like this keeps me going."
Allie Muldowney said she liked Shop with a Cop.
"It was fun. I just kept picking out clothes!" she said.
Grayslake Police Officer Shawn Peterson handed the Muldowneys their turkey dinner and loaded their wrapped presents into their car.
"This is why we do this, to help people out," Peterson said. "This way, they can wake up on Christmas and open presents and have a traditional holiday dinner."
He said many families are in tough situations this year due to the economy.
"You hope (job loss) never happens to you but you hope, if it does, that someone would help you," Peterson said. "That is what we are doing."
Grayslake Sgt. Jeff Myhra said the police officers collected donations from businesses throughout Grayslake and Hainesville to provide each child with money to spend. Many kids bought necessities for their parents and siblings; others went straight for the toy aisle. Myhra knew that without the program, some families might not be able to afford any Christmas gifts.
"I was shocked by how many calls for assistance we received," Myhra said. "Residents called in saying, 'I just lost my job and need help giving to my kids.' Our officers and the local businesses were unbelievably responsive."
Myhra said it was a good way to kick off the holidays. He estimated that the project involved a total of 60 to 70 volunteers.
"We are all here trying to help one family at a time," he said.
Grayslake Detective Gregg Hatter said he shopped with two boys, Joshua, 12, and Justin, 4.
"The dashed right for the toy aisle," said Hatter of McHenry. "Seeing the smiles on their faces - it is just great. It was like running from aisle to aisle the whole time."
After the shopping, the items were delivered to the Grayslake Village Hall where more than 20 Santa helpers from Grayslake's Strang Funeral Chapel and Crematorium wrapped the gifts.
"It's that time of the year where giving and sharing is what it's all about," said Richard Gaddis of Strang Funeral Home. "Our staff is very commited to the community. Everyone wanted to do this. We wanted to do more than just give money."
Eileen Reinert and her husband, Mark, daughter Marlene and her friend Sarah Perret, all of Lake Forest, were some of the "elves" on hand wrapping gifts.
"We wanted to help wrap gifts to spread Christmas cheer," said Eileen Reinert, who has worked at Strang for about 10 years.
Mark Reinert appeared to be having the most fun joking and disrupting the other volunteers.
Megan Willhite also volunteered, carrying her 6-month-old daughter, Cecilia, in a carrier on her back as she chased around her active 3-year-old son, Sully, while her husband Mark Willhite wrapped presents.
"We usually try to do something around the holidays," Megan Willhite said. "This is our work family. It is more fun to volunteer all together."
Marcy Drechsler of Grayslake said wanted to help others.
"Because there are a lot of people who are so much less fortunate, I just wanted to make a tiny, tiny difference in their lives through this," Dreschsler said.
Her friend, Jeanette Powell of Gurnee, came along to help.
"What's more important than for kids to be happy at Christmas?"