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City fee could bounce toy giveaway event from Hemmens

Five-year-old Duoce Buco sorts through hundreds toys Thursday Hemmens during annual Toy Giveaway. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Five-year-old Duoce Buco sorts through hundreds of toys Thursday at the Hemmens during the annual Toy Giveaway. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 17, 2012 6:17AM

ELGIN — This might be the last December that the annual Elgin Community Holiday Toy Giveaway will be held at the Hemmens Cultural Center.

The reason: This year, Elgin began charging anyone and everyone who uses the city-owned and operated venue, including nonprofits that used to get to use the facility at a reduced rate or gratis. The change was part of a move to cut expenses at the downtown facility in the wake of a number of city budget cuts this year.

Toy giveaway organizers are concerned they might not be able to find the $2,500 fee being charged this year again for the 2013 event.

“We were lucky, and a donor picked up the fee this year, but unless we find a benefactor again or the city reconsiders its stance, there is the potential we would have to move somewhere else beyond that,” said Mary Hyatt, who is a member of the Community Crisis Center board of directors and coordinator of the toy giveaway, which also collects toys and donations to buy them.

Hyatt explained that what makes the Hemmens the optimal place for the event is that the facility is centrally located. The layout of the building is such that it expedites the process which involves a room where parents or guardians register for gifts and another area where they pick up the toys.

While the Crisis Center is the lead agency for the giveaway, Hyatt said the effort also involves quite a few other local groups and businesses, including the Girl Scouts, the Grand Victoria Casino and its foundation, Elgin Township and Chase Bank. The Courier-News also has been among a number of co-sponsors each year.

About 300 people volunteer annually, Hyatt said, and in 2011, the drive gave toys to 1,015 families and a total of 2,770 kids.

The program has been taking place for more than 20 years and it is open to families in Elgin and South Elgin. Adults can take two gifts for each child. Hyatt said more than half the recipient families had Medicaid cards.

Setup date this year is Tuesday, Dec. 18, with the giveaway running at the Hemmens from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Hyatt said she and others have been working on the project since August. The effort picks up steam in November when an email address ( and a phone line (847-742-4088, ext. 304) are fully manned, she said.

Collection boxes for toys will be set up at places throughout Elgin sometime next month. Hyatt said anyone who would like to donate money to the effort can mail a check to the Community Crisis Center, P.O. Box 1390, Elgin, IL, 60121. Checks should be made payable to the Community Crisis Center and be noted as for the toy giveaway in the memo field.

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