Niles Service League delivers presents Sunday to 10 local families

NILES — This holiday season, Merrilly Nicolazzi, a Niles Service League treasurer, got to help keep the magic of Santa Claus alive for a 5-year-old boy.

Concealing a pile of presents in a black trash bag, Nicolazzi joined dozens of other volunteers in delivering gifts Sunday to families that were adopted through the Niles Service League’s Christmas Families program.

This year, the nonprofit was able to sponsor 10 families and 15 children. Volunteers from the organization spent $200 in gifts and clothing for each family they adopted. Families also get a basket of food to cook a Christmas dinner and new pillows, sheets and towels.

“The adoption of Christmas families is probably our largest outreach program that we do each year, servicing the families of Niles, Brandywine and Buchanan,” Nicolazzi said.

Local school districts help to connect the families with the Niles Service League by recommending them for the program.

Throughout the year, Niles Service League members host numerous fundraisers which help to support the holiday adoption program. A November food drive helps to collect food donations for Christmas dinner baskets.   

Prior to shopping, volunteers with the Niles Service League meet with the families to talk about what they need for Christmas, right down to individual color preferences. The volunteers then shop and wrap their presents.

“It’s a pretty special time, because it is a culmination of all the work we have been doing toward [raising money] for the Christmas families,” Nicolazzi said.

When Nicolazzi met with her family this year, she said they told her they were not sure how they would be able to provide gifts for their child this Christmas.

“I asked the mom, ‘Does he believe in Santa Claus?’ and she said, ‘Yes,” Nicolazzi said.

Knowing this, Nicolazzi sought to help keep the magic alive, discreetly dropping off the presents. Knowing that the child will now get to wake up Christmas morning to a tree full of presents was “heartwarming,” she said.

Nicolazzi signed up to be a volunteer with the organization about a year ago, after she moved to Niles from Vernon Hills, Illinois to be closer to family.

“I was talking with someone and said, ‘I really want to get involved with something that services kids,’ and someone suggested the Niles Service League,” Nicolazzi said. “This is a very special kind of volunteer opportunity and I encourage anyone who is looking for something special [to take part], because it’s local and directly services kids.”

The Niles Service League got its start in 1934 with the aim to help improve the lives of local children. The organization raises money for multiple projects that support students in Niles, Buchanan and Brandywine school district. Those interested in learning more about the organization can visit nilesserviceleague.org or visit their Facebook page.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” Nicolazzi said.

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