Boxes of healthy produce, frozen turkeys, stuffed animals and bright red tote bags filled with children’s books and hand sanitizer overflowed on folding tables lining the curb, waiting to be given to families through our Uniting for the Holidays distribution events. In partnership with local nonprofit agencies, Uniting for the Holidays helps reduce food insecurity and brighten the holiday season for our neighbors. Over the course of five weeks in November and December, these drive-thru style events connected more than 3,000 families in 10 suburban communities with 3,500+ holiday meals and 1,500+ toys, stuffed animals, books and wellness resources.

“This year, the need that we are seeing in the community is a need for coming together, for feeling safe, for feeling that people are cared for and that you are loved,” said Kathy Millin, executive director for Partners for Our Communities in Palatine. “It’s not only the need for food that is being provided, but it’s more about the fact that they know that somebody cares about them, and they are coming together with their family and celebrating.”

Uniting for the Holidays truly brought the community together throughout the Chicago region as volunteers donned elf costumes and families stopped for photos with Santa.

“Philanthropic belief goes beyond just giving money,” said Brooke Thompson, managing director/market executive for Greater Chicago – Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. and United Way of Metro Chicago board member. “It also means giving your time. I think volunteering for events like this [not only] makes you feel good, but it’s just such a wonderful thing to do and an excellent way to be able to give back.”

More than $285,000 was raised through the generous support of 40+ corporate sponsors, 100+ individual donors and our regional boards to help provide a season of joy and connection through vital food, educational and health resources for thousands of our neighbors across the Chicago region.

“What I’m hearing from my team and what I’ve witnessed today is the overwhelming need in the community,” said Stephanie Peden-Fox, manager of community relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “People are lined up early to receive the goods and services that are being provided.”

As families drove away, their trunks filled with frozen turkeys and teddy bears, our communities celebrated a time of joy and giving back—and embraced a sense of hope for the year to come.

“I’m hoping that when people leave this event, they feel they are united,” Kathy Millin said. “We are strong together, we are healthy together and we are going to get through this year.”

“I see that everyone is here, coming to be merry with the holiday spirit, which is a lovely thing,” said Antonio Battee, a south suburban resident. “I just think everybody should come together, especially during these tough times. And the giving spirit is always a good one.”

While our Uniting for the Holidays events may have ended, the need continues. You can still make a gift to United Way of Metro Chicago and support our ongoing commitment to helping families across the region meet their most basic needs and together build stronger, more equitable communities. Donate today.