Giving Back This Year's Make A Difference Day Winners Stuffed Kindness into Backpacks
Long, Kay, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Kay Long Daily Herald Staff Writer
It's 10 a.m. on a recent Thursday and the dining room at Lexington Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Streamwood is abuzz.
A dozen residents gather, not for a midmorning snack or to play bingo, but to work, along with two mothers and their seven children.
Their task is to sew - by hand - 26 pillows that will eventually become "cozies" for children in crisis. The pillows will be stuffed into a backpack full of other goodies, including a fleece blanket, toiletries, stuffed animals, art supplies and small toys, and delivered to children at the Community Crisis Center in Elgin.
The project, dubbed "Backpack Buddies," was started by two sisters in Hanover Park looking for a service project for their home-schooled children.
"We wanted to build character skills," says Cindy Dittmer, who coordinates the McDitter's Homeschool backpack effort along with her sister Jeannette McNamara. "We want them to learn how to work and we want them to learn how to serve others."
Dittmer, along with her five children, and McNamara and her two children, launched their project on Make A Difference Day last fall and have been chosen by the Daily Herald as this year's local Make A Difference Day winner.
Make A Difference Day is a national day of kindness created by USA Weekend magazine and sponsored locally by the Daily Herald, which provides a $500 charitable donation to a local project each year. The sisters funneled this year's award to the crisis center, which serves women and children abruptly taken from their homes because of domestic violence or other reasons.
Though the sisters started the project on Make A Difference Day last October, they plan to make it a quarterly affair and so far, they've held to that promise.
The recent workday at Lexington kicked off the group's third round of gathering backpacks for the crisis center. They also made a delivery of several dozen backpacks in January. Families stay at the crisis center only six weeks, so there's always a new batch of children to serve.
"The kids loved the backpacks. It was theirs," says Sally Hoffman, the center's children's program coordinator. "Homeless kids and kids who are here for domestic violence don't always have a lot of things that are theirs. They don't bring very much with them."
Equally as important as the goodies inside were the packs themselves, Hoffman says.
"That's where they keep a lot of their things. When you're in shelter you don't have your own dresser," she says, explaining that seven rooms house 40 women and children at the center. The extra backpack gives the kids a measure of privacy.
No generation gap
Young and old worked together to sew, stuff and fluff the pillows. …