‘Tis the season to give back

For the third consecutive year, Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County will be wrapping gifts at Market Place Mall to raise money for housing projects in the area. The fundraiser is part of a national partnership between Habitat for Humanity and General Growth Properties, said Gina Stierwalt, development director for Habitat of Champaign County. “All GGP malls that have a Habitat affiliate in the area host us for gift wrapping,” she said.

The fundraiser started the weekend after Thanksgiving and continues every Friday, Saturday and Sunday leading up to Christmas. From Monday, Dec. 21 through Thursday, Dec. 24, volunteers will also be wrapping gifts, hoping to raise money through their service.

“We’re accepting any volunteers, everyone and anyone who is interested,” Stierwalt said. “So far we’ve had volunteer groups from businesses, volunteers involved with the student chapter of Habitat, and individuals who were looking for volunteer hours.”

Anyone interested in helping can contact Gina about volunteering at [email protected] or stop by the mall to have gifts wrapped.

The Champaign-Urbana Optimist Club is another organization holding a holiday fundraiser. The C-U Optimists are hosting their annual Christmas tree sale at the Country Fair parking lot in Champaign, said Laura Auteberry, president of the C-U Optimists.

“The Optimist’s national slogan is Friend of Youth, and we work to provide funding for youth related programs,” she said.

This includes programs for childhood cancer, an annual kids fishing derby, buying holiday gifts for children and several essay contests where the winners receive scholarship funds. The club also provides funding to other programs serving youth in the community such as Crisis Nursery and the Champaign County Children’s Advocacy Center.

The C-U Optimists sale started Nov. 28 and will continue through Dec 20., or until all trees are sold. The group still has over 200 trees to sell. The tent is open Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Those interested in volunteering can visit the C-U Optimists’ Web site at CUOptomist.org.

“We’re looking to start a student chapter, so this would be a great way for students to get involved,” Auteberry said. “It’s an important cause. We have a lot of youth in our community that don’t get a lot of opportunities and we like to give them these opportunities.”

Other organizations are looking to directly influence the holidays of people in the community, including The Irish Illini and the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

Irish Illini will again be participating in Special Christmas for Special Kids, a holiday party put on by the Champaign Park District. The holiday party is for children in the community with special needs and their families. Here, kids have an afternoon filled with games, crafts, music, and gifts, said Amanda Burns, senior in Engineering and co-president of Irish Illini.

This year, the party will take place Dec. 12 at the Leonard Center in Champaign. Irish Illini will be wrapping gifts for the children the night before starting at 6 p.m. and volunteering at the party Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Those looking to get involved can e-mail Amanda at [email protected]

“It’s really open to anyone who is interested,” Burns said. “It’s a lot more than donating money for food and gifts. It’s us giving our time, which is often more valuable.”

The men of Pi Kappa Alpha work to get the Greek community involved through their Pike Presents philanthropy. Luke and JD Langefeld have participated for the past two years and this year they are in charge of organizing the project. “We buy gifts for the students at Garden Hills Elementary, where close to 75 percent of students that go there are under the poverty line,” said Luke, junior in AHS. “A lot of them don’t have an opportunity to experience the holidays or receive gifts.”

Pi Kappa Alpha works hard to make sure the 350 students of Garden Hills Elementary receive presents for the holidays. Fraternity members do so by asking sororities on campus to sponsor children, spending around $25 per child.

“Every year before Thanksgiving, we ask the teachers to give us wish lists from the kids. The wish lists include toys, school supplies, and books, and we distribute them to the participating sororities,” said JD, junior in LAS.

The rest of children are sponsored by members of Pi Kappa Alpha.

“We make sure that no kid is left without presents,” Luke said. “We keep track of all nineteen classes and go through each gift to make sure no gifts are missing and no wish lists were lost.”

The gifts will be distributed at the school Friday, Dec 11. Teachers make time during class for the students to play with their gifts, JD said.

Pi Kappa Alpha also asks for donations, sending out close to 500 letters each year.

“This year we’ve raised about $3,000 and all of that money goes to the school,” JD said.

While Pike Presents hasn’t yet expanded outside the Greek system, anyone willing to donate or help out in the future would be appreciated, Luke said.

Whether organizations are raising money for a local cause or working to improve the holiday season for those less fortunate, the organizations value the holiday spirit of giving.

“It feels good to know that you’re making a difference in someone’s life,” Burns said. “It’s a really rewarding experience.”