Festive Fair Brightens Evanston Families’ Holiday Season

As Christmas music played and families mingled, Dayari Landa sifted through a table filled with children’s books, searching for the perfect read. The 9-year-old girl passed over Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein offerings and, with a look of delight, picked up two coding books for girls.

“This is great! I just joined Girls Who Can Code this year,” she said excitedly, before turning to the toy table, where she found a science kit to place under her Christmas tree.

An annual holiday resource fair, United for the Holidays provides 100 families, like Dayari’s, from one of United Way of Metro Chicago’s Neighborhood Networks with winter gear, holiday gifts, health and household resources, and more. This year’s event, held on Wednesday night, benefited families in Evanston.

“You have a bunch of kids who are excited to be here. As a parent, it’s so cool to get to see kids find their toys, mittens, and hats — all the things we sometimes take for granted, but brighten a kid’s life,” said Sean Garrett, president and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago.

“It’s important for United Way to be doing this work because it allows the community to see us as a partner and to help these families have a better holiday and a little brightness in what could be a difficult time,” he added.


A Blessing at Christmastime

For this year’s United for the Holidays fair, we partnered with Evanston Cradle to Career, the lead agency in the Evanston Neighborhood Network that’s focused on building a strong future for local youth. Our partners at Family Focus hosted the event, which spread through the building’s gymnasium and classrooms.

During the festive evening, families received coats and winter accessories, toys, books and school supplies, as well as Christmas trees from Santa’s Best. In addition, parents were connected to information about employment opportunities through our Access United program, as well as ComEd and Comcast resources to help reduce their utility costs.

Most of the kids could be found making slime in the craft room courtesy of BLICK Art Materials or getting a fresh haircut from Chop Chop Mobile. 

The night also featured surprise visits from Staley Da Bear, the Chicago Bears’ mascot, and Matt Forte, a former Chicago Bears running back. Matt, a new United Way of Metro Chicago ambassador, provided thousands of t-shirts and sweatshirts to the families, as well as additional hats, gloves and winter wear.

For Victoria Mugabi, a university student and mother from Evanston, the holiday fair was a “fun and thoughtful” way to support families.

“As a single mom, I can’t afford to buy stuff like this for my child. It’s a privilege for us to pick out these things. And for me, it’s a blessing,” she said as she corralled her 5-year-old daughter with a big, red sack full of goodies in hand.


The Tale of Two Evanstons

When considering communities in need around the Chicago region, Evanston, a city of 75,000 residents just north of the Chicago city line, is often overlooked. However, there’s a strong dichotomy between the affluent and working-class communities of Evanston. Through United for the Holidays, we and our partners strive to bring some holiday fun and financial relief to the latter.

“People have a strong feeling that Evanston doesn’t have any need, and actually it has a profound need. We have a significant population of homeless families and so many that are living well below the poverty line,” said Sheila Merry, executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career. “Because we’re not a community where people perceive that, it’s often hard to get resources into the community.” 

Sheila views the holiday resource fair as a way to show families that someone in the community is looking out for them, especially during the celebratory season.

“I think [the resource fair] is such a statement of our value of the community,” she added. “That’s really the sense of what I feel about this. [We’re] respecting our families and committed to telling them that they’re valued and they matter.”


Q & A with YLS Executive Chair, Angela Wells

The new YLS Chair works in the Government Affairs and Community Investment Department for Comcast, enjoys the platform YLS gives young professionals to take a leading role in the community and is inspired by her fellow members. Oh, and her all-time favorite movie is the original Karate Kid. For the A to Z on Angela Wells, read on. What are your major goals for YLS this year? I’d love to see YLS continue to flourish. My goal is to inspire more young professionals to instill a lifelong commitment to the community. More specifically, we want to grow our membership, focus on United Way initiatives such as education, and add member value by creating new programming including leadership development and several networking and volunteer events throughout the year. Why is YLS a good group for young professionals to become involved in? YLS is a dynamic group with meaningful events that allow young professionals to take a leading role in impacting their community. What do you do for your job at Comcast? At Comcast I work in our Government Affairs and Community Investment department where I focus on local community and government affairs initiatives. Some of these include our Comcast United Way Campaign, our national day of service – Comcast Cares Day and promoting our Comcast Leaders and Achievers scholarship program. A current initiative I’m excited to promote in the community is Internet Essentials from Comcast, a new program that will give students who qualify for the federal free lunch program access to low-cost Internet and computers. It’s wonderful to be involved with the launch of this program in an effort to close the digital divide. I love the fast-paced environment of the media industry and being involved in the community through my role at Comcast. In addition to YLS, I’m also a part of the City Year Associate Board, Women in Cable Telecommunications and the Cornell Alumni Association of Chicago. How did you originally get involved with YLS? I first discovered United Way when I lived in Houston and led the Comcast United Way Employee Campaign. From there, I became active with the Young Leaders group as I was inspired by the work of United Way and I was also looking to meet like-minded young professionals. When I moved to Chicago, I wanted to become more familiar with the community and I quickly discovered YLS. My first YLS event in Chicago was a holiday celebration where I had the opportunity to meet several committee members who encouraged me to become more involved. What was your best YLS experience? The best experience has been meeting people who I now can call close friends and see regularly in YLS and outside of YLS. Without my involvement with YLS I would never have had the chance to meet so many extraordinary and dedicated young professionals. There are so many worthy nonprofits. What is it about YLS that made you decide to take on a leadership role? I learned a great deal about the work of United Way and its impact in the community through leading my company campaign. Once I understood the impact and the critical focus on Heath, Education and Income – I knew it would be an organization I would be involved with for years to come. I wanted to take on a leadership role to inspire others and to become an ambassador for United Way. In YLS, I truly believe there is a unique opportunity to network, become educated about issues facing the community and volunteer alongside like-minded professionals. Why do you continue to stay involved and how? I continue to stay involved with YLS because I truly care about the work United Way is doing and I enjoy the company of all the YLSers who share the same drive. It’s always great to meet with such inspiring and personable members in the group and there are always new people to meet! Now onto some fun questions! Best thing about Chicago The many festivals, farmers markets and amazing food. Worst thing about Chicago Traffic. When I have free time, you will find me where in Chicago? In hot yoga classes, walking around Lakeview, at various community events through my involvement with Comcast, at local sports bars rooting for Cornell and Penn State… Favorite places to eat Chicago Diner, Whole Foods and Mercadito Favorite television show Modern Family and Good Morning America Favorite movie Karate Kid (1984) Favorite musician George Strait What songs are always on your iPod? I’m a little old fashioned and do not own an iPod. I still listen mostly to the radio! I use Pandora on my home and work computers and love country music, classic rock, jazz standards – some of my favorites range from Edith Piaf, Randy Rogers Band, Jo Stafford, Julieta Venegas to Cage the Elephant. Favorite vacation spot Houston to visit family and friends Favorite quote “…And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of the little things the heart finds it morning and is refreshed…” from the Prophet (on friendship) by Kahlil Gibran