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Bourbonnais family sends 4 semitrailers of relief aid to Florida

BOURBONNAIS — One of the things 7-year-old Dominic D’Andrea remembers from his trip to hurricane-battered Florida is the ants.

The “hundred million thousand hundred million ants” in the truck his mother was using to distribute goods across south Florida were an example of unexpected effects of a hurricane.

His mom, Jaclyn D’Andrea, explained the ants were searching for higher ground in water-logged areas and infesting salvageable vehicles.

Dominic, who received a lot of support online when Jaclyn shared a video of him saying he wanted to use his piggy bank money to go to people affected by Hurricane Ian, was not initially going to go to Florida.

Dad Brian D’Andrea was a little nervous about flying into a federally-declared disaster zone with a 7-year-old, having first-responder friends who went into the mess after Hurricane Katrina. He even initially asked Jaclyn to reconsider driving to Fort Myers to distribute relief supplies.

“When she had the idea of him coming down the night before I was leaving, again I was a little bit hesitant because I didn’t know what we were going to be facing,” Brian said.

However, they decided it would be beneficial for Dominic to see the results of his mission, so Brian and Dominic took a flight out for the first weekend.

“I’m really glad he got to see that. … Stuff from here has an impact, but actually going to see what he was helping was huge,” Brian said.

The Bourbonnais family raised around $22,000 and sent four semitrailers with hundreds of thousands of pounds in goods to the Fort Myers area, as well as half of a Penske truck filled with supplies people donated or were bought with fundraised money.

As they doled out supplies, served meals and assisted other relief operations, they met many people along the way who were grateful for the aid.

“They were just saying like thank you,” Dominic said. “Because this one lady saw the whole semi-truck when we were loading the first one, and she asked if we were going to give water out in bottles, and we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to have a whole food pantry tomorrow.’”

The path to Florida

When Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc on the southeastern United States in late September, Jaclyn filmed Dominic telling her he wanted the money he saved in his piggy bank, $200.31, to help the people affected by the hurricane.

“I was really saving up for a Corvette or an electric scooter, but people need this,” he said in the video.

When she posted the video on social media and TikTok to share with friends and family, people from across the country and beyond viewed it and wanted to join the cause. The family began raising money and made a TV appearance in a segment on “Fox & Friends Weekend.” They raised more than $12,000 to set up a supply station in Florida.

Two 26-foot Penskes were donated to take goods down to Florida, but when Brian worked out a deal with nonprofit Illinois Partners in Hope to use two semitrailers, Jaclyn left Oct. 5 with just one Penske.

An additional $10,000 donation from Tami Bonnell, the co-chair of EXIT Realty Corp. International, the real estate group Jaclyn works for, allowed them to send two more semitrailers to Florida for four total.

Jaclyn had planned to be in Florida for at least a week, but she ended up staying for just under two weeks.

“I did not come home until the very last item we had was delivered,” she said.

The volunteering experience

Once in Fort Myers, Jaclyn and volunteers developed a two-fold system: they set up a food and supply pickup station with the semitrailers and used the Penske to make deliveries around the area.

As Jaclyn posted updates, people looking to help reached out or just showed up at the sites, prepared to help load up vehicles with supplies, swap goods or deliver some to a new area.

“There’s no way that we could have done it without the amount of support of volunteers,” she said.

She worked with people from United Cajun Navy, Tina and Tab, to get items to areas with barges or that required bridge access, which at first were only open to first responders and people with badges.

Staying with a friend in Punta Gorda, Jaclyn got up around 5 a.m. to shower, drive into the impacted area and make deliveries in neighborhoods and RV parks throughout Arcadia, Alva, Fort Myers, Everglades City, Naples, Sanibel Island and Pine Island until sometimes 1 a.m., stopping at Wawa for sustenance.

People from all over the region and those with connections to it were continuously reaching out to her by phone, email and social media, so she kept a notepad of everything and made a list each night of where to go.

In one of the most devastated areas she went to, Island Park in Fort Myers, Jaclyn remembered every single home had flooded with at least six feet of water because there had been an eight foot surge, and all the homes were gutted.

“I had to put the truck in park and I just lost it,” she said. “Because I had to compose myself before showing up to someone’s house and be helpful and be that hope and that light to them.”

When Brian and Dominic flew out that first weekend, they assisted with the delivery line and drop-offs.

“And then one of the houses that we went to, they literally had like nothing, the whole house was broke down,” Dominic said.

This was Natures Cove, a nonprofit that takes care of seven mentally disabled elderly men, which took in over six feet of water. They made several supply drop-offs there.

Everywhere the group went, they swapped supplies to give them further reach. One church gave them four pallets of tarps, which they had none of, to distribute.

“It was just incredible, the community of people, like I said, swapping goods and getting these items wherever they had to go across south Florida,” Jaclyn recalled.

Her crew also picked up the tabs of first responders or maintenance workers they encountered while stopping for lunch or dinner. They wanted to give back to the people helping, too, Jaclyn said, because she knew how long the days could be.

The outlook

Throughout the process, Jaclyn said people they met thanked her family for inspiring them to do more to help. However, she said it was an all-new experience for the whole family.

“To be honest with you, this was way out of our own realm,” Jaclyn said. “We’ve never done anything like this. But I’m so so grateful that we had the opportunity to do it because again it was surreal, and life-changing.”

It impacted several weeks of their lives, from frantically shopping and getting travel plans in order before Jaclyn left to the family trying to manage without her for two weeks.

Older daughter Peyton Renaud, 13, held down the fort in Bourbonnais while her mom was gone. She reflected that the family had visited Fort Myers a few months prior to the hurricane, and many shops and locations they went to were impacted.

She particularly remembered walking for miles with her mom to find a 7-Eleven in Fort Myers.

“So where that 7-Eleven was standing, that’s not there anymore,” Peyton said. “It’s crazy to think that in 24 hours’ time, that everything’s just gone.”

Since Jaclyn has been back in Illinois, she has continued to connect with the people she met in Florida and is still seeing the effects of the work.

Brian said the experience gave the family clarity on potentially bigger goals for the future on how they can make impacts and help people.

“It literally gave me purpose,” Jaclyn said.

State's Attorney's, coroner's offices to begin 'Empty Chair Campaign'

The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Kankakee County Coroner announced the “Empty Chair Campaign,” which is raising awareness to end overdose deaths in Kankakee County.

“Far too many Thanksgiving tables across Kankakee County will have an empty chair this year as families feel the tragic absence of a loved one lost to an overdose. State’s Attorney Jim Rowe and Coroner Bob Gessner are calling attention to the local overdose crisis by way of an Empty Chair Campaign, staging over 87 chairs on the front lawn of the Kankakee County Courthouse to represent the countless lives lost to drugs,” said a news release on the subject.

Each chair, covered with a purple ribbon in honor of Overdose Awareness, represents victims of a drug-related overdose death between 2021-22. The display will run from Nov. 23-27.

In addition to the scourge of heroin- and fentanyl-related overdose deaths during the past few years, Kankakee County is now experiencing an increase in Xylazene-related overdoses as well. Xylazene is an animal tranquilizer that has no approved use for humans; it is being mixed (“laced”) with fentanyl, heroin and other illicit narcotics, according to the release.

Xylazene does not respond to Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication, and makes street drugs tremendously more dangerous.

“Gessner has been sounding the alarm on these dangerous substances since early 2010 when the heroin epidemic started to hit Kankakee County, and has remained our region’s loudest voice on this topic,” said the release.

“This holiday season there will be many empty chairs around the family dinner table as a result of the opioid epidemic. Please join us in supporting the families and friends of those suffering from grief and anguish this holiday season and remember those who lost their life” said Gessner in the release, adding that “our community has an obligation to fight this epidemic on every front and increasing public awareness of the crisis, through efforts like the ‘Empty Chair Campaign’ is tantamount to saving lives.”

“These are not your hippie drugs of the ‘60s and ‘70s; these are not recreational drugs; these are overdose deaths waiting to happen. If your loved one gets a hold of drugs that have been laced with Fentanyl or Xylazene, they are likely to die. There are local resources available to assist those with an addiction to drugs and to empower their family members to take action as well — the stakes are too high to do nothing. Don’t let an empty chair be at your table next year, get help for you or your loved one right now. The State’s Attorney’s Office and Coroner’s Office can be contacted for resource referrals and assistance,” said Rowe in the news release.

Questions regarding the Empty Chair Campaign, and those seeking help, can be directed to or

KCCVB releases 2021 Economic Impact report, sees tourism recovering

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s tourism continued an upward trend with $146.1 million being spent by visitors to the county in fiscal year 2021, according to recent statistics provided by the Illinois Office of Tourism.

It is a 17.3% increase from FY 2020, when visitors to the county spent $122.1 million.

A fiscal year in this case runs from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next year.

Tourism within Kankakee County generated $5.6 million in local tax revenue, falling just behind the $5.7 million generated in 2019, according to the release.

“The Kankakee County Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to promote and champion Kankakee County as an overnight visitor destination,” said Nicole Gavin, KCCVB’s interim executive director, in the news release.

“Tourism helps power the economic engine within our community, generating revenue and also creating jobs,” she said.

The Kankakee County Convention and Visitors Bureau released the information Friday.

The Illinois Office of Tourism received the information from Tourism Economics, a group covering the business aspects of tourism, according to its website.

Gavin pointed out that Kankakee County is the No. 5 manufacturing hub among small communities in the U.S. — which equates to an increase in business travel as well.

According to the KCCVB news release including the KCCVB’s 2021 Economic Impact report, COVID-19 restrictions and closures negatively impacted visitor volume throughout 2020, however Kankakee County experienced a rebound as restrictions eased. Though not quite reaching the 2019 spend of $157.5 million, visitor spending recovered to nearly 93% of 2019 levels.

“We diligently work to invite visitors to experience the plentiful and natural outdoor adventures and unique indoor attractions,” Gavin said in the release.

“We share the rich Midwestern history and invoke nostalgia as we showcase our quaint towns and communities, and also highlight the modern and urban vibe of our other can’t-miss destinations. Kankakee County has it all.”

According to Tourism Economics, Kankakee County employed 1,107 individuals in jobs that directly impact tourism (food and beverage, other transportation, recreation and entertainment, lodging, air transportation, gas stations, retail trade, finance/insurance/real estate and personal services) in 2021. In 2020, the number of jobs was 1,081.

The Tourism Economics study takes account of constraints on development, such as social and community interests and the sustainable use of tourism and recreation resources, and inputs into the production process.

The definition of tourism used includes tourist trips taken for all purposes, embracing both stay and day visitors.

Bourbonnais, Manteno announce Christmas activities

On Friday, the villages of Bourbonnais and Manteno released information on its respective Christmas activities.

Village of Bourbonnais

At 6 p.m. Dec. 1, the village of Bourbonnais presents the second annual Rockin’ Around the Tree Lighting featuring sounds of the season by Bourbonnais students. The public is invited to attend the festive outdoor event held at 131 S. Main St. (the corner of Main Street NW/Illinois Route 102 and South Main Street/U.S. Route 45-52).

Rockin’ Around the Tree Lighting will include:

• Alan Shepard Elementary — third-graders, under the direction of Emily Heald

• Bishop McNamara Catholic School — first- and third-graders, under the direction of Amy Shinabarger

• Kankakee Area Career Center — Preschool, under the direction of Peggy Buehler and Melissa Kapidis

Warm up with LoveALatte, serving seasonal favorites available for purchase. From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., attendees can additionally enjoy a sweet treat special from Dairy Queen with $1 small cones at the 121 S. Main St. location.

Santa Claus will be making a special stop along with the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District, Bourbonnais Police and Bourbonnais Public Works for an opportunity to “Touch a Truck.” This event is free for the public to attend. No registration is required.

Village of Manteno

The village of Manteno invites Manteno residents to participate in the annual coloring contest for a chance to help “flip the switch” to help light up downtown Manteno at the Mayor’s Annual Lighting Ceremony during the Christmas in Manteno event Dec. 3.

Students ages preschool through fourth grade, including special needs students, are encouraged to participate. Coloring contests have been sent home with students at the Manteno Elementary School.

More copies are available at Village Hall. The only participation requirement is that the student is a Manteno resident. Four winners will be selected and will get the chance to get a one-on-one meet and greet with Santa, ride on Santa’s sleigh in his parade starting at 12:45 p.m., and invited on stage at 5:30 p.m. to help flip the switch at the lighting ceremony.

Coloring sheets must be completed and returned to Village Hall at the drive thru or after-hours drop box (98 E. Third St.) by Nov. 28. Results will be announced by 4 p.m. Nov. 30. Winners will be contacted by phone and announced on the Village of Manteno Facebook page.

By entering into the contest, parents/guardians are giving permission for their child’s photo to be taken should they be selected as a contest winner. The coloring contest this year is sponsored by Main Street Pharmacy, where the winners work will be displayed at the pharmacy.

Beginning at 12:45 p.m. Dec. 3, the village of Manteno will kick off the holiday season with the 10th Annual Christmas in Manteno. The event begins with the Santa Parade, led by the Manteno High School Marching Band. The parade starts at Main and Division and travels north on Main to Second Street.

Following the parade from 2-4:45 p.m. will be the Chamber of Commerce Holiday Business Walk, ending just in time for the 4:45 p.m. Pre-Lighting of Main Street Ceremony with entertainment. At 5:30 p.m., the Mayor’s Lighting Ceremony will start at 5:30pm.

The Daily Journal will continue to publish Christmas- and holiday-related events happening in Kankakee and Iroquois counties.