Rotary Secret Santa prepares to deliver thousands of gifts in McHenry County

  • Volunteers grab bags stuffed with wrapped toys during the Rotary Secret Santa delivery day in December 2020. New, unwrapped toys for this year's program are being accepted through Dec. 18.

    Volunteers grab bags stuffed with wrapped toys during the Rotary Secret Santa delivery day in December 2020. New, unwrapped toys for this year's program are being accepted through Dec. 18. Courtesy of Gary Mertz

 
 
Updated 12/6/2021 11:08 AM

The McHenry-based Rotary Secret Santa program is taking assistance requests from families throughout McHenry County through Wednesday, Dec. 8.

Those in need of holiday gifts for children ages infant to 12 should click on the assistance tab at www.sunrisesecretsanta.com and complete the online form for consideration, said Mike Lehman, program founder and chairman.

 

Already, a small army of elves is signed up to sort and wrap thousands of gifts the week of Dec. 13, with deliveries scheduled for Dec. 19.

Begun in 2014 by McHenry Sunrise Rotary, the program now is coordinated by the McHenry Area Rotary, which formed in 2020 as the merger of the Sunrise club and the Rotary Club of McHenry.

For the past several years, the effort has provided roughly 8,000 toys to about 2,000 children annually, Lehman said.

While the Marines Toys for Tots program supplies the lion's share of the toys, community members also donate. And this year, a $5,700 McHenry Home Depot grant is covering dozens of toys to fill anticipated gaps in the newborn to age 3 and 10- to 12-year-old categories.

"It was kind of last-minute, and a huge blessing," Lehman said of the grant. "I had talked with the store manager last year as I was purchasing the heavy-duty garbage bags we use to make deliveries. This year, she donated several hundred garbage bags, plus more than 150 toys."

Geri Quirk-Blanken, McHenry store manager and a district Team Depot community captain with the Home Depot Foundation, was able to coordinate the grant within 24 hours after a short discussion earlier this month, Lehman said.

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Quirk-Blanken said she was thrilled to help. The donation includes 181 children's items, ranging from art sets to remote-controlled monster trucks.

"I remember when I was starting off as a young parent. It was a struggle to provide for the kids at the holidays," she said. "I asked Mike 'What can I do besides helping to wrap gifts?'"

Others who'd like to help can still donate new, unwrapped toys through Dec. 18, Lehman said.

Drop-off sites include McHenry District 15 schools as well as Alex's Drive Inn, Buddyz Pizzeria and Gary Lang Auto Group in McHenry, plus the Lake House on Pistakee, Northern Light Care and Stucky's Bar and Grille in Johnsburg.

The program never ceases to renew the holiday spirits of those who participate in the mass sorting and wrapping sessions, as well as the deliveries, Lehman said. To learn of remaining volunteer slot openings, complete the volunteer sign-up form at www.sunrisesecretsanta.com/get-involved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The camaraderie that goes on between volunteers is just amazing," Lehman said. "Spirits are up. People are feeling good about the holiday and about seeing their neighbors. They just enjoy being a part of this and giving back."

Several area businesses supply teams of volunteers who help with wrapping, while others have provided key financial support, he added.

A list of Rotary Secret Santa sponsors, as well as a portal for cash donations, also appear at www.sunrisesecretsanta.com.

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