By Rebecca Foster-Goodman
The spirit of giving is most often associated with the holiday season. Food pantries, churches and shelters see donations spike between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But as memories of the holidays fade, so do the donations to organizations that depend on the generosity of others. Unfortunately, hunger and need endure well past the Christmas season.
"The system is full of kids with unlimited potential. They just need someone to believe in them,” says Ann McAveeny (third from right), founder of Fill a Heart 4 Kids. She is joined by (from left) Tutoring Director Allison Shaewitz, Project Development Director Margie Alpert, Assistant Manager Jennifer Guy, Board Member Cariann Rice and Assistant Manager Kelly Wagner.
Fill a Heart 4 Kids (FAH4K) understands that. The Lake Forest non-profit provides critical necessities to more than 2,000 homeless, foster and at-risk children in Lake and Cook counties all year long. Founded by Annie McAveeney in 2007, FAH4K was created after the McAveeney family fostered a child for six months. When it was time for the child to be reunited with his mother, the family was happy for both; however, it left a huge hole in their hearts. “We started doing research on group facilities and found that so many other children needed love,” says McAveeney. “The whole experience opened a new perspective.” This led to the creation of Fill a Heart 4 Kids, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month. The organization works closely with teachers, social workers, and truancy officers to provide the basic needs to children who are homeless or in group facilities. McAveeney emphasizes that many of the items these children lack are basic items most of us take for granted – clean socks, underwear, sweatpants, blankets – which are necessary for these children to have a chance at success in school and beyond.
“Kids that are hungry or cold can’t focus. They can’t learn. When we give them the tools they need, it is a game changer,” McAveeney says. “Giving them what they need to succeed and treating them with kindness and dignity will undoubtedly allow them to be more successful. The system is full of kids with unlimited potential. They just need someone to believe in them.”
Valentine’s Day, which will be celebrated Monday, is an especially painful time for foster children, especially little girls that see their classmates wearing heart socks or shirts. Project Valentine was created to help those children feel loved on Valentine’s Day. More than 2,000 kids will receive a Valentine’s gift through this program, including stuffed animals, restaurant gift cards, and toiletries. “Feeling loved is crucial to all children, especially those who don’t receive it regularly,” McAveeney said. “Project Valentine gives these kids the fuel they need to press on and continue.”
The FAH4K website lists yearlong opportunities to help with their mission, from Project Valentine to Project Hop in the spring and Happy Cheesy Sock Day in the fall. The FAH4K Pop-Up Shop in Market Square provides opportunities for those that want a more hands-on approach to giving. The Market Square space is beautifully decorated for each season, creating a festive atmosphere for the volunteers as well as for the children in the program. Since opening in 2021, the Market Square location has doubled FAH4K’s volume of giving. The space is broken up into different stations for creating care packages with all kinds of necessary items from boxed food to toiletries to socks and blankets. Each care package includes a personal note of love and encouragement.
In addition to providing care packages to thousands of children, FAH4K also provides tutoring and a recruiting program. Teachers donate their time and talents to assist children in their schoolwork, and the recruiting program prepares candidates for interviews as well as life skills such as grooming and hygiene. “Our goal is to prepare the kids for brighter futures and treat them with kindness.” McAveeney says. “Once they have that confidence, they can continue on a path of success.”
McAveeney knows that it is the generosity of the Lake Forest community that has allowed Fill a Heart 4 Kids to be a shining light in the lives of so many. Said she, “The people of Lake Forest believe in our mission and support us in countless ways. We are surrounded by a wonderful community.”
To make a donation to Fill a Heart 4 Kids, visit www.fillaheartforkids.org or stop by its Market Square location for details on how you can donate your time, talents and treasures.