Presents outside the box: People share ideas on meaningful gift-giving

By Erika Wurst For Chronicle Media

Once again, the Oswego Fire Protection District is participating in the Toys for Tots program. Donation gifts may be dropped off at all fire district stations. (Photo courtesy of Oswego Fire District)

There are a million gifts to give this holiday season and not all of them need to be bought in a big box store or a from an online retail giant. 

We asked local Kendall County residents to tell us the best gifts they’ve given or received that don’t include toys or trinkets or a trip to the malls or stores.  

From homemade cookbooks (including grandma’s favorite recipes) to family slideshows or cherished outings or vacations, there’s no shortage of ideas floating around.   

Once you’re done giving to your own family, consider supporting local organizations in need. We’ve also included ideas and ways you can give back and help make others’ holidays bright.  

Making it matter 

Sarah Watts Wisniewski: “We’ve gotten a gift in the past that was a small book with our family’s story in it (where our relatives came from, when they immigrated, etc.). I thought that was really cool.” 

Sarah Wisniewski

Ashley Petkunas:  “A few Christmases ago, I got recipe cards with my grandma’s German cookie recipes. The best part is that they took pictures of her making the cookies and laminated them to the back of the recipe. I cried. It was pretty awesome and I will always cherish this gift even after she’s gone.” 

Cassie Hatzfeld: “I’ve given a Shipt, Amazon Prime, or Co-op membership. It doesn’t seem very personal at first but can make a huge difference for the whole year for a busy parent. I’ve given Netflix for a year, too.” 

Kim Balder: My parents give park district gift certificates. That way the kids can take classes all year long.” 

Heather Gregar: “One year my mom made a slide show of all the pictures she could find of our family, past and present members. She coordinated the pictures with favorite songs and burned it on a CD. It was the best present ever.” 

Chante Morrick

Jennifer Smith: “Gifting my kids a ‘yes’ day during break. Meaning they ask and we say have to say yes (within reason). Ice cream for dinner, a random kid requested excursion, doing mom’s makeup for her, picking wacky outfits for the family or just staying in pajamas all day and staying up late at night creates far more memories for my family than any toy we have given. “ 

Katie Vaughan: “I have heard of doing an envelope for each month of the year where you do something together. For example, January may be build a snowman, July could be go to the beach, it’s more about spending time and creating memories than getting “stuff”. 

Misti Myers Wayer: “My brother has rented out an outdoor ice skating rink the morning after Christmas for all of his nieces and nephews for the past 10 years. (In Indiana, near where my mom lives now). No toys for the kids, but two hours of fun and memories for the whole family. It is everyone’s favorite gift each year.” 

Becky Marshall

Meghan Schmid: “Subscription boxes make great gifts. Especially for kids. They have monthly boxes of crafts and activities. They can be a bit pricey, but it’s like a year-round present.” 

Sarah Zameda: “I want a (personal) organizer. Someone you pay to organize and make your closets appear organized. That would be the gift that keeps on giving.” 

Chante Morrick: “I make homemade essential oil rollers, sugar scrubs, beard oils and body butters. They make great gifts for anyone.” 

Becky Marshall: “I have dried garden herbs from my garden and have create an Italian spice blend which I’ve given with artesian pasta or good olive oil. “ 

Meghan Schmid

Meghan Schmid: “Subscription boxes make great gifts. Especially for kids. They have monthly boxes of crafts and activities. They can be a bit pricey, but it’s like a year-round present.” 

Charitable giving 

For those looking to give gifts that make a difference in the Kendall community or on a larger scale, plenty of organizations large and small can use the financial assistance. 

“If you are looking for a charity to donate this holiday season please look at Camp Out for Cancer, “ said resident Nicole Juraska Conner. “This charity gives kids with cancer care packages to “camp out” in the hospital to make their stay a little more fun. This is run by a local Momma whose son beat cancer. “   

The site to check out is” 

Toys for Tots 

The Oswego Fire Department’s annual Toys for Tots drive has officially kicked-off. Four district stations have partnered with Oswego School District 308, the Marine Corps and the Oswego Optimist Club to collect gifts this season for those in need. New, unwrapped toys will be accepted at any of the Oswego fire stations: 

3511 Woolley Road, Oswego 

2200 Wiesbrook Drive, Oswego 

2200 Galena Road, Montgomery 

27100 W 127th St., Plainfield 

Last year, more than 7,000 toys were gifted to Kendall County kids. A hundred new bikes were also given away to local families in need. 

If you’re part of or know of a family in need this holiday season, the fire protection district wants to hear from you. Call (630) 554-2110 to make a request. Donations in the form of gift cards are still being taken for the two dozen families who were displaced after the Oswego Light Road Fire earlier this month. 

Hesed House shelter in Aurora is always in need of monetary donations and gifts as well as basic supplies for residents. (Photo courtesy of Hesed House)


Hesed House 

Hesed House’s Matching Donations Challenge is underway, and a great place to support this holiday season.  

A generous group of donors led by the Hesed House Board of Trustees are challenging our community to support our neediest neighbors. All donations made to Hesed House between now and Dec.  31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000.  

Visit to make your gift today!  

Hesed House also has “immediate needs” that can be gifted at the Aurora shelter.  

These items include: 

New kids clothing 

Gift cards (Walmart, Target etc.) 

Men’s small/medium underwear 

Liquid laundry detergent 

Cold/cough medicine (capsules) 


Sleep aid 

Cold medicine 


Project 3:11 

Tis the season to live and breathe Project 3:11’s motto, “share with the one who has none.” What better way to do that than to sponsor a family or individual in need asks Project 3:11 founder Amy Lawler of Montgomery.  

Project 3:11’s has partnered with Mercy Housing’s Batavia Apartments to fill a Santa Bag for each family with children. That’s over 130 families! 

Please follow the link below to sign up as a sponsor this Holiday Season.  

For each family, the list includes: 

1 game/item for the whole family to enjoy  

Popcorn and snacks  

Hat, gloves, scarves and socks for each child  

Age appropriate gifts of one snack, one small gift, one book for each child 


The Kendall County Community Food Pantry  

The group is always seeking a plethora of donation items. In addition to groceries, the pantry offers clients new and gently used clothing, shoes and linens, along with pet food. It also coordinates with the Kendall Free Clinic for free and low-cost medical care to qualified recipients. 

Monetary donations allow the pantry to significantly stretch their buying power through the Northern Illinois Food Bank. For every $1 donated, the pantry can provide $8 worth of food. 

Canned goods and other items can also be donated on site, at 208 Beaver St. in Yorkville. 

To volunteer your time or make a donation online, go to





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