One woman’s sadness over two losses threatened to cast a pall over the holiday season — until she came up with a radical idea that her family embraced. Stay-at-home mothers are relieving hunger in their communities. A grocery store helps others feed hundreds more than just its customers.
In Northwest Indiana, compassion for people in need is leading families to acts of kindness — too many to name in this space, but enough to inspire.
Teresa Flamini, of St. John, turned grieving into giving.
“Losing my best friend and my mother within eight months in 2004 was terrible; Christmas was going to be sad,” Flamini said.
But the family loved Flamini's suggestion: “Instead of buying gifts for each other, we pooled our holiday resources and gave to those less fortunate.”
Now a family tradition, it gained focus when Flamini’s granddaughter was airlifted to a Chicago hospital. Flamini realized that parents whose children are unexpectedly hospitalized often find themselves away from home without basic needs. Before each Thanksgiving, donated items such as travel-size shampoos, toothpaste, snacks, cards, puzzles and more, plus a gift card, are put in comfort bags distributed to local hospitals. This year’s September Giving Thanks event provided 173 comfort bags to families, hospitals and organizations in the greater Chicagoland area. (A comfort bag wish list can be seen at flaminifoundation.com.)
Stunned at its success, the nonprofit Flamini Family Foundation was formed in 2009, expanding to give 500 toys to children in 10 hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses. Comfort bears, using material from a piece of clothing from an ill or deceased loved one, will be made at Diane’s Apron Shoppe for $35 each, with $5 from every purchase going to the Flamini Family Foundation.
Word spread: Women’s accessories store Thirty One held fundraisers netting 92 blankets, $200, and wish list items. Heart in Hand Natural Health and Reiki Training Center in Highland is collecting items, and retired teachers of Lake County schools donate books. All items for hospitalized children must be new because of health concerns.
“I believe God brings us together for a reason,” Flamini said. “People’s generosity is wonderful.”
The art of giving
Local stay-at-home moms in MOMS Clubs (Moms Offering Moms Support) contribute to the needy. Member Kara Graper in Crown Point organizes a yearly packing party for Operation Christmas Child, a national organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
During the second week of November, designated drop-off centers receive donated items that can fit into shoe boxes.
”Many families make it part of their yearly tradition to fill a handful of shoe boxes. My kids look forward to every year, and it’s changed their hearts about material things,” Graper said.
Highland/Griffith chapter MOMS Club member Molly Conley said its projects are “such a great way for our kids to get involved and learn the art of giving.”
MOMS Club member Angela Holmquist recalls one mother with three teenagers facing Thanksgiving and a four-day weekend with little food.
“We provided 10 bags of groceries. The shocked look on the mom's face just melted my heart,” Holmquist said.
Some nonprofit agencies cannot exist without support, said Beth Szamatowicz, director of public relations and volunteer services at Campagna Academy in Schererville, which educates 100-plus residential and daytime at-risk children with developmental disabilities.
“Lots of hospitals and businesses support us,” said Szamatowicz, “and individual volunteers, like RSVP (55 and older) members and Tri Kappa members from Dyer, Schererville and St. John will help this season wrapping gifts and packing food bags.”
“It’s always amazing how charitable folks are at this time of year,” said Joe Kolavo, vice president of perishable operations at Strack & Van Til’s 24 Northwest Indiana grocery stores, which raise money and donate food for local food banks, soup kitchens, shelters and Salvation Army chapters. A Check Out Hunger campaign begins accepting donations from Strack & Van Til customers from the third week in November through Jan. 1.
Whether one family or an organization, opportunities abound for generosity in Northwest Indiana.
“Our hospitals reach out to fill a need, through food drives, Giving Trees and more during the Thanksgiving/holiday seasons,” said Elise Sims, in public relations at Community Health Systems. Community’s employee groups volunteer in such projects as partnering with the local Boy Scout troops' Scouting for Food Drive and host a blanket, coat and sock drive during the holidays for Sojourner Truth House, Brother’s Keeper, Rainbow Shelter and the Hobart Food Pantry.