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Operation Santa brings holiday cheer to homebound locals

Russ Doherty was able to ring in the spirit of the season early thanks to New Lenox Township’s Operation Santa.

The New Lenox resident’s home was one of 14 stops on Saturday, Dec. 9, that received a visit from Santa Claus and some carolers.

“They don’t have accessibility,” said Kathie Johnson, director of family services for New Lenox Township. “That’s the meaning for this. It’s bringing Christmas cheer.”

For more than 20 years, New Lenox Township has held Operation Santa annually to help homebound people. New Lenox Township staff identified the individuals and families who benefited from this year’s program through the transportation services they offer, word of mouth and the food pantry.

“The original trustees and supervisor wanted to bring Christmas cheer to homebound people—no matter what age,” Johnson said. “They’re not able to get out because of illness or can’t drive, so they rely on others to get around. We visit every year bringing cheer and Santa.”

This year’s program benefitted 13 New Lenox families and 10 residents of Marley Oaks Assisted Living Residences in Mokena, Johnson said. Two other families called in and informed New Lenox Township staff to not come by because they were feeling under the weather.

The individuals and families at each stop received goodies at their doorsteps, all of which are donated by New Lenox residents. This included items such as playing cards, puzzles, mittens, gloves and personal hygiene products.

“We ended up with quite a bit,” Johnson said. “That’s such a blessing.”

For the last nine years, Johnson has worked with seniors in different capacities.

“For homebound seniors, going out is difficult, so we bring cheer,” Johnson said. “Quite a few were emotional.”

Johnson works with Debbie Cunningham, the New Lenox Township’s director of transportation services, to make Operation Santa possible. They began in October by looking for potential clients to benefit from the program, and by November, everyone was contacted.

“We call in to check in with residents to gauge their interest,” Johnson said.

Johnson said a large number of the seniors that she knows visit the New Lenox Township’s food pantry.

The food pantry receives about 300 visits monthly, and the clients are allowed to drop in once a week.

“I have a lot of volunteers at the food pantry, and they put together the bags,” Johnson said. “It was a lot of work. It took two days. They separated everything and filled the bags. They did a wonderful job.”

New Lenox Township has registered about 20 new families for services during this holiday season, Johnson said. It is not atypical to see the need for assistance grow during this time of the year.

Johnson brought along four of her grandchildren to serve as carolers and said Operation Santa has become a big tradition for her and her family.

“Everyone who goes takes something away,” she said. “The kids have a great time. It teaches them about giving of themselves and not expecting anything in return. On the other side of it, they receive so much.”

New Lenox Township officials Barb Kaupas and Kathy Hilton were also on hand to serve as carolers this time around.

Johnson stressed that there is a great need for programs like Operation Santa in and around the area and said she wishes they could do more.

“It’s a gift of love from residents and volunteers,” Johnson said.

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