A massive 3-foot-tall pile of packages crowded the front office at Cary-Grove High School by Thursday morning. Nearby, a miniature artificial Christmas tree was dwarfed by the more than 750 gifts, all wrapped in colorful holiday paper and gift bags.
Each package bore a gift tag with the name of a child from Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy, 5024 S. Wolcott Ave., in Chicago. The "From" designation on many tags simply read: "Santa."
"This is the most (gifts) we've ever collected," said Cary-Grove High School senior Patrick Kelly.
Kelly is the president of the school's Interact Club, which coordinated the school-wide gift collection drive culminating in an estimated $20,000 worth of toys and clothing donations, school officials said.
Interact Club leaders met at the school's front office at 8 a.m. to load the gifts into a Chicago Public Schools truck that arrived by 9 a.m. at Cary-Grove, located at 2208 Three Oaks Rd., in Cary. The truck was expected to deliver the gifts to the 780 students, in kindergarten through 8th grade, at the academy.
The Cary-Grove collection was considerable, especially since the school only received the Daley Academy students' "wish lists" in late November.
"We put all the kids' (wish list) letters out, and then our Cary-Grove students pick the one they want to buy for," Kelly said. "We received over 750 letters this year."
The Academy students request one to two gifts, Kelly said, and Cary-Grove students who choose to participate in the program fulfill the requests. Presents are kept in the $25 price range.
According to the student volunteers, the top gifts requested this year included the Baby Alive Dolls, Barbies, Monster High Dolls, Angry Bird items, board games, footballs, sports items and clothing.
While the students at Richard J. Daley Academy receive a merrier Christmas, the teens at Cary-Grove High School walk away with the satisfaction of helping those in need and a touch of holiday spirit.
The gift collection program started a few years back when Cary-Grove students "adopted" 25 students from Daley Academy and filled their Christmas wish lists. The program has grown exponentially over the years.
"In the past four years, Cary-Grove has collected more than 2,500 presents worth about $60,000 for the school," said Jeff Puma, communications director for Community High School District 155.
Interact Club is open to all students at Cary-Grove High School, according to Kelly's father, Jim Kelly, a dean at the school and supervisor for the program.
Interact was started about 10 years ago, under Kelly's direction, as a way to help students give back to the community. The organization routinely holds fundraisers and special events to help people in need.
For Thanksgiving, the club members raised money and purchased $750 of food from the Northern Illinois Food Bank that fed 150 people, Jim Kelly said.
"The greatest thing about this program is that Interact is open to all kids at the school," Jim Kelly said. "We have kids from all facets of the high school- kids from the football team, soccer players, tennis players, choir, the math team, the speech team.
"This club represents the heart of the kids at Cary-Grove," Jim Kelly said.