Turkey for Tots

Olivia Wirthlin, 10, of Kankakee, beams at the toy she picked out during the 2019 Turkey for Tots event. After a hiatus in in-person shopping last year because of COVID-19, the event will return to its traditional format this year.

Daily Journal staff report

KANKAKEE — For the 26th consecutive year, the Kankakee Valley Beverage Association will provide Christmas gifts for underprivileged children from Kankakee and Iroquois counties.

This year, the organization will return to its traditional format after interruptions in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Every year, the association takes underprivileged children ages 6 to 12 Christmas shopping. For the past six years, the group has been able to provide for an average of 150 to 200 kids. This year, the group’s goal is to take 250 children shopping, according to event organizer Heatherann Low.

“In 2020, with COVID, we were able to help 196 kids with their Christmas wish list,” said Low, who is an employee of Renville Gaming. “Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, we had to shop for the kids, and the parents picked up the items at Meijer.”

The event will return to its traditional set up this year, with participants and volunteers observing COVID precautions as they shop together. Shopping for this year’s event is set for Dec. 18 at Meijer in Bradley.

The shopping is funded in part by an annual fundraiser called Turkey for Tots. This year’s fundraiser will be 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Manteno Sportsmen’s Club.

Starting Tuesday, the KVBA will begin registering children for the program. Corporate and personal sponsorships are available now. Sponsorship opportunities start at $75.

“Local companies have really played a pivotal role this year in our hefty goal of reaching 250 kids,” Low said, adding KVBA has teamed up with the Knights of the Innocent MC in fundraising efforts. “Corporate sponsors have donated to ensure we do not leave any children behind [who] are truly in need.”

Those who wish to sponsor the event or nominate a child for participation can contact KVBA. Children ages 6 to 12 are eligible to take part.

“We reach out to local schools, churches, youth groups, sponsor nominations and our state’s attorney’s office to pre-register the children,” Low said.

Each child is allowed a $75 budget to purchase their items.

On the day of shopping, children are greeted at Meijer with refreshments, candy and treats before a volunteer takes them to the toy department.

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.