Watch Now: 185 Families Attended Early Blessing At Normal Children’s Christmas Party | Local news


Dozens of people volunteered today at the 39th Children’s Christmas Party, serving approximately 185 low-income families and 700 children with groceries and holiday cheer.



NORMAL – Holidays are really about helping each other.

Dozens of volunteers volunteered on Saturday for the 39th annual Children’s Christmas Party, serving approximately 185 low-income families and 700 children with groceries and holiday cheer. It was hosted at the Midwest Food Bank in Normal and sponsored by the Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.

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Sweets, products and toys were donated by Blain’s Farm and Fleet, the Tinervin Family Foundation, Illinois Wesleyan University and Darnall Printing. Additionally, Meijer, Hy-Vee, and the Gingerbread House provided discounted toys and candy. Pantagraph Media’s Goodfellow Fund was an additional sponsor of the event.

Mike Matejka, retired from construction union LiUNA Local 362, said that for some families, “It’s Christmas. This will be it.

“So it’s very important to brighten the holidays for families who may not have much.”

He said families had a choice between ham and turkey, provided by Tinervin, and were given age-appropriate toys for their children at the drive-through event.






Lorinda Chastain with LiUNA Local 362 and her son Raylan, 6, both from Maroa, carry food to donate to low-income families at the children’s Christmas party in Normal.


Brendan Denison



The event began in 1982, when Matejka said there was a high unemployment rate in the Bloomington-Normal area and 800 children were being served. He said they always did it at Bloomington High School and they organized games and activities with the freebies.

Charlie Moore, CEO of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, said the Christmas party has continued over the decades and they’ve figured out how to overcome the challenges caused by COVID.

Moore said they’ve gathered creative minds and determined they can mimic the food drive the food bank is having for Thanksgiving.

He thanked the food bank for allowing them to use the facility, adding that without it the party wouldn’t be possible.

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John Penn was one of the early organizers of the Christmas party. He noted that several generations of volunteers are showing up, and he expects the event to continue forever.

“We would love not to do it if we don’t have unemployment, but we know it won’t happen,” Penn said.






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John Penn, left, carries turkeys to give to families on Saturday at the Children’s Christmas Party at Normal. About 185 families were served.


Brendan Denison



“A lot of these people have jobs, but they have two or three part-time jobs,” Matejka said. “They may be working, but they just can’t.”

And they still need help, he added.

Penn said unions and management have always had a great relationship in McLean County, and this sets an example for other communities.

“This is the perfect example, seeing the room and the work sitting here today,” Penn said.

Lorinda Chastain of Maroa, of Local 362, said she brought her children, Raylan and Avery, to teach them how amazing it is to help each other.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” she said.






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Avery, 6, and Raylan, 5, chat with Santa Claus and Mrs Claus at the children’s Christmas party Saturday at the Midwest Food Bank in Normal. In the photo to the right, mother Lorinda Chastain.


Brendan Denison



Santa also visited the Midwest Food Bank, along with Ms Claus, both of whom noticed the dynamic work ethic of the little helpers. Santa told the two kids they were doing a great job – and he offered them a job at the North Pole once they turned 16.

“I need a good cookie maker,” he told the young people.






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Kevin Callis, left, loads donated food into the cars as McLean County 11th Circuit judge Carla Barnes greets participants at the drive-through event on Saturday.


Brendan Denison



There was also McLean County Judge Carla Barnes, who was sworn in in February as the first African-American judge of the 11th Circuit Court.

Barnes told the Pantagraph that she was there for the holiday spirit and was happy to be there.

“It’s a wonderful way to connect with people and do things that make you feel good, and you see the smiles on their faces,” she said.

She added that it helps her enjoy the holiday season, especially with everything that happened during the pandemic.

“It really makes you appreciate the connection we can have with people during this time,” Barnes said.

McLean County State Attorney Don Knapp echoed his delight for the event. He said they’ve always had a great relationship with Laborers and Penns, and volunteering at the party helps get in the Christmas spirit.

Bloomington’s Kevin Callis also volunteered on Saturday.

“This is a very important moment,” he said. “The whole community comes together for the holidays, and we help people who might need a little extra help at an important time of the year. “






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LiUNA Local 362 retiree Mike Matejka picks up boxes of food to give to low-income families on Saturday during the children’s Christmas party at Normal. The event was sponsored by Bloomington & Normal Labor & Trades Council and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.


Brendan Denison



Another worker from Local 362 who lent a hand was Steve Childers of Normal. He said he was grateful – and blessed – for what he has. And it’s good to give back.

He noted that there are people who are struggling to find a place to live and to have food on the table.

“It’s a beautiful thing going on here,” said Peter Woods, who picked up food on Saturday. He said he was glad the program was there.

With him was Cate Ward. She said Woods’ workplace, Ashers Bar and Grill in Farmington, burned down on Thanksgiving Day.

“It was the only place we could get help,” Ward said.

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Cortney Shipp from Bloomington came to pick up some gifts and said she was very happy for the help. She described it as a blessing.

After receiving a gift card, she said she “made me smile”.

And, “It reversed my frown.”

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison


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