It’s the season of giving and we’re finding that spirit displayed throughout the Region among individuals, school classes, non-profits, churches and also among many places of business in our communities. Thanks to the generosity of business owners, managers and groups of co-workers that band together to do good, examples of giving and gratitude are on display not only during the holidays, but throughout the year.
Curves for Women
At the Curves for Women’s Highland and Schererville/St. John locations, the holiday season is much more about giving than receiving. About 10 years ago, owner Linda Compton started a tradition of giving back to those less fortunate in the community by adopting several families.
“All the members get involved,” she says. Working through a church or local charity to identify a few local families in need, she makes a tree with gift ideas for the ornaments. She says sometimes she runs out of tags and has to make up extras with necessities such as winter gloves.
Besides gift items, members also sign up for non-perishable food items to donate, and fill large baskets with fixings for a holiday meal and other pantry staples for each family. Some members add gift cards, as well.
“I love to watch all the women get so excited about buying things, but the best part is delivering it,” says Compton, who brings the gifts and food to recipients along with her daughter and 81-year-old mother, who wears a Santa hat on deliveries.
“There are tears and it’s very gratifying. It feels good to help.”
Lakeside Wealth Management
According to Tim Rice, president of Lakeside Wealth Management in Chesterton, giving back isn’t a once a year occurrence with the company. “We encourage giving throughout the year and don’t focus just on holidays,” he says.
In December the company does contribute $2,500 to two different food banks. Outside of the holiday season, he says that each employee gets a paid day off once a year to volunteer with the charity of his or her choice. The company also matches an employee’s charitable contributions up to $250.
Employees at Lakeside Wealth Management participate in community volunteer projects as a team. For the “United Way Day of Caring,” 23 employees worked at the local YMCA on painting, spreading mulch, cleaning toys, cleaning rugs and performing other tasks. Rice says his entire team also participated in April with Rebuilding Together Duneland, a not-for-profit organization that initiates home projects for homeowners who are elderly, financially burdened, or disabled, working toward community revitalization. Employees also worked at Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, helping with weed pulling and landscaping this year.
Rice says, “We firmly believe it’s our duty to give back our time, talent and treasures to a community that has blessed us in so many ways.”
Quik Scripts, with locations in Griffith and Lansing, is another business with a philosophy that giving should extend well beyond the holiday season. At the Lansing location, there are two ongoing projects: one is a collection box for care packages to the military (toiletry items can be dropped off at any time and are collected monthly to be shipped off), and the second is a drop box for the Lansing Food Pantry, where a pantry volunteer stops in weekly to collect donations.
Owner Dave Davila says he also enjoys being involved in community events, such as the Easter Bunny Run, and he offers discounts to customers as an incentive to donate to the food pantry.
“With us you are not a shopper, you’re a person and we want to give back to the people of the community,” Davila says.
J.J. Kelley’s Restaurant and Pub
J.J. Kelley’s Restaurant and Pub in Lansing has become known as a place that gives support to many local charities, most notably to veterans’ causes. Fundraisers have been done at J.J. Kelley’s to benefit the LCPL Philip J. Martini Memorial Fund, created by a fallen Marine’s family to provide funding for veteran-related causes.
Co-owner Jo-Ellyn Kelley and her husband, Vince, also hold a Marine Birthday Celebration each year, and veterans are invited to come in for a complimentary meal. A cake cutting ceremony includes the oldest Marine in attendance cutting the cake and handing it off to the youngest Marine. Boy Scouts also sell raffle tickets to raise money for their annual Super Bowl party at the Manteno Veterans Home.
Other fundraisers have included one for a police officer whose home was destroyed by a fire, one for a new non-profit that provides miniature horse therapy to the elderly and individuals with disabilities and most recently a fundraiser for a brain cancer patient that brought in over $15,000. At Christmas, there’s also a collection of new toys that go to juvenile cancer patients. “I can guarantee that almost every month there’s some kind of fundraising thing going on here and when someone walks through the door and needs a donation of a gift certificate or sweatshirt for a raffle, I never say no,” Kelley says.
Kenneth J. Allen Law Group
For Kenneth and Nina Allen, giving back is a year-round philosophy that has involved distributing hundreds of bicycle helmets and backpacks filled with school supplies. At the holidays, however, their generosity really shines through as they give 1,000 complete Thanksgiving dinners that are coordinated through food banks and tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards to needy families to be used for toys and clothing for children. The Kenneth J. Allen Law Group has also gotten involved in promoting literacy, donating $20,000 to help fund the United Way’s “Reading Buddies” program, where first and second graders receive stuffed animals that they read to for 15 minutes each day.
“I’ve always believed that a vibrant and safe community can only exist if we take proper care of our children and families," Kenneth Allen says.
Culver’s of Valparaiso and Schererville
Giving happens all year long at Culver’s of Valparaiso and Schererville, where every month a different “Charity of the Month” is selected. In November, the focus was on veterans, where customers could buy Christmas cards and write messages in them that were displayed in the restaurants and then forwarded to troops overseas with proceeds going to veterans’ causes in Lake and Porter counties. A special parking spot was also designated for veterans at each location.
In December, Angel Trees are placed at each store for customers and staff to select a tag and provide presents for a child through the Hilltop House and Salvation Army. They expect to provide gifts for around 250 children.
Owner Wendy Gates says that they try to focus on local charities as much as possible and achieve donations in different ways, such as offering customers an option to “round up” their purchase and donate their change. Other beneficiaries have been 4-H, Red Cross and diabetes research. “It’s the best part of what I do,” Gates says. “It makes me feel good and inspires some of our staff to give back, too.”
Don Quijote Restaurante and Imports
Carlos Rivero, owner of Don Quijote, is passionate about helping the needy and for 29 years has been doing an annual benefit for homeless families, last year raising $42,500 for the Spring Valley transitional housing shelter. This year he hopes to get close to $50,000. “Every year I get more enthusiastic, because 147 of these people are kids under 12 and that just breaks your heart,” Rivero says. “These are not people you think of when you think of ‘homeless,’ but people who three or four or five months ago had everything, but there was a loss of job or someone in the family and they are now in these conditions. It’s a lot of very young families.”
For another benefit event that Rivero hosts, Spanish Club students at Valparaiso and Chesterton High School help sell tickets and proceeds of the event go toward scholarships. About $22,000 was raised at the most recent event.
A food drive is also held at the restaurant during the holidays and last year $4,000 in cash was raised in addition to food donations.
The Door Store
At the Door Store in Munster, occasionally products are delivered that don’t fit due to a mismeasurement. Rather than discard the products, they are donated to Habitat for Humanity to be used in rehabilitation projects.
Gift certificates are also donated to various charities that request them during the year for fundraising events, such as a recent donation for the March of Dimes, according to owner Barb Hicks.
Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning
“The biggest thing that we do is during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” says bookkeeper/advertising coordinator Pat Tinlenburg. A designated amount is donated on specific services, which enabled Illiana Heating to give almost $5,000 to Munster Medical Research to pay for mammograms and other diagnostic tests that some women otherwise couldn’t afford.
Owner Tom Krygsheld has also generously supported Mommy’s Haven in Crown Point, a center for single women experiencing a crisis pregnancy as well as providing support and sponsorships to some of the area’s private Christian schools.
Northshore Health Centers
Northshore Health Centers has seven locations in Lake and Porter counties and they support the communities they serve all year long by offering a “Jeans Day” to employees who can pay $5 to wear jeans twice a week. “The money goes into a patient account and when there’s a special situation with a patient, like outstanding medical bills, we can request money from the account to help them,” says Tricia Hall, director of outreach and patient relations.
In November and December those funds go to help needy families provide gifts and dinner for their children. Excess funds go to local shelters or food banks. “We reach out to agencies we deal with consistently to find out if they have any families with special needs,” Hall says. “Sometimes employees will give more than $5 just to help out.”
Hall says that they also do collections for coat drives this time of year; this year they are working with Coats for Kids as well as the North Township Trustees office.
Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors
“For a number of years local Realtors throughout Northwest Indiana have participated in community projects and events headed up by GNIAR. One of the longest running events we've participated in is the Sojourner Truth House Walk, which raises funds for a day shelter for women and children,” says Nichole DeMario, GNIAR director of communications and professional development. “For nearly seven years, we have hosted two annual food drives at our summertime Annual Meeting and during our holiday party in December. To date, we have collected thousands of pounds of food for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. Most recently, our Young Professionals Network have adopted Rebuilding Together as their annual volunteer project. We have had the immense honor of overseeing a project at Dayspring Women's Shelter and assisting a local elderly woman in need of numerous home repairs all through the organization.”
This year GNIAR volunteers also participated in United Way's Day of Caring, they were sent to the Crisis Center to work on sprucing up the landscaping, and they generally support organizations that are related to housing or homelessness.
GNAIR has also made financial contributions to Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana, Habitat for Humanity Starke/Pulaski counties, Housing Opportunities, North Central Indiana Rural Crisis Center Rensselaer, St. Joseph's Carmelite Home, Sojourner Truth House, and Rebuilding Together Portage.
For about 25 years, staff at Vanis Salons have selected two local charities to support: this year they’ve committed to helping Jacob’s Ladder Pediatric Rehabilitation and the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation. Employees are invited to donate to each of the causes and Vanis Salons matches the total of the donations.
"People in the service industry are generally caring and compassionate people anyway, and we’re trying to lead and encourage gratitude in the community," says owner Chris Valavanis. "If we can engage them and show them the need, they may volunteer at a soup kitchen or cut hair at St. Jude House or do makeovers for The Caring Place.”
The salons also help out by donating gift cards throughout the year to everything from small school events to major charity fundraisers. They also hold cut-a-thons at the salons, including one last May in conjunction with their 30th anniversary that raised $9,000 for the Cancer Research Centre.
Porter Regional Hospital
“At Porter Health Care System we believe it is important to give back to the community throughout the year,” says spokesperson Kelly Credit. “In 2015 we have provided over $2.5 million in charitable contributions and public service. We provide charitable contributions to organizations with a health care focus or that are working towards economic development/revitalization. We also encourage our employees to participate in community and health care related fundraisers like the VNA Walk for Hospice, AHA Heart Walk, and American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Walk.”
One of those community revitalization efforts includes sponsoring the amphitheater at Central Park Plaza in Valparaiso.
This holiday season, Porter Regional Hospital is focusing on two initiatives. The first is the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program and the second is a community event with Mr. and Mrs. Claus that includes entertainment from the Portage High School Choir and a collection for Toys for Tots.
When Methodist Hospitals held their staff’s recent leadership development institute, part of the admission was a monetary or food donation to go toward the Northwest Indiana Food bank. It’s just one way to give back this time of year. The emergency room at the hospital is also leading a coat drive, serving as a drop-off point for employees and individuals in the community to donate items for local families in need.
According to marketing director Evelyn Morris, they’ve also worked with the Salvation Army for several years by setting up “Angel Trees” in the cafeteria with wish lists from 150 local disadvantaged kids. “Each department takes a child, the employees from that department purchase gifts, and the Salvation Army picks them up and distributes them,” Morris says.
Morris says that toiletry items similar to what patients receive are also donated to a homeless shelter in the area—enough supplies for 400 men.
HealthLinc Community Health Centers
With seven sites in Northern Indiana, the HealthLinc Community Health Centers take part in a number of outreach programs, from providing books when children come in for wellness exams to free flu shot days to “Jeans Day” contributions.
This time of year, several locations are assisting with providing food needs for Thanksgiving meal baskets and some are distributing hats and gloves.
“Pediatrics in Michigan City started a program called ‘Keep the Heat on Their Feet’ sock drive,” says Brandi Anstine, director of development. After an assistant noticed how many patients had holes in their socks or none at all, a sock drive was started for kids in need.
Other initiatives include a “Give Kids a Smile” Day, where oral exams, fluoride treatments and dental screenings are provided to uninsured kids, a men’s health event and a back-to-school event where free backpacks and free haircuts are given.