SOUTH HOLLAND | For Greg Williams, a 17-year South Holland resident, this truly is a magical time of the year. He gets to don a red-and-white suit and bring joy to children from the south suburbs who might not otherwise have such a Merry Christmas.
Williams on Tuesday, and again today, plays Santa Claus as part of the annual holiday party and gift giveaway that Thornton Township offers each year for low-income families.
"I enjoy this job so much," said Santa, aka Williams. "To see the joy of receiving a present in the eyes of a child is so wonderful."
The gift-giveaway taking place this week has been in the works since October, said township spokesman Robert Storman. He said area residents and businesses donated many of the items.
Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli said township funds were used to purchase about $5,000 in presents.
"But we're giving back about $30,000 worth of presents, so it's mostly people who were very generous with their donations," he said.
Those receiving gifts are referred to the township by residents, school officials or in some cases village presidents of the 17 communities in Thornton Township.
Recipient families are notified about the gifts waiting for them at the township offices, 333 162nd St. When they arrive, there are pre-sorted bags filled with presents for each family.
Zuccarelli said the event has grown during the past decade. It once provided gifts to about 400 children. But this year, officials say they expect to provide gifts to about 1,400 children.
And Storman said officials are hoping to grow the event further. He said township officials are negotiating with radio stations WYCA-FM and WVON-AM for corporate sponsorship and promotion.
Though many kids got to have their pictures taken sitting on the laps of both Santa and Zuccarelli, the township supervisor doesn't plan to don the red suit himself anytime soon.
"I'm too skinny for it," he said. "But I'm catching up on it."