More than a week after the pile of gifts arrived, Ellen Tucker was still shocked when she looked at the donations under the Christmas tree in her family’s Willowbrook home.
“I’ll do anything for anybody,” said Tucker, a 43-year-old single mother of two and client of in Hinsdale. “But I don’t expect anything back ever.”
The Tuckers were one of six area families selected as recipients of a $5,000 Christmas from Gibson Consulting Group, LLC. The business consulting firm, led by founder and longtime Hinsdale resident Wes Gibson, partnered with HCS and decided to dedicate $30,000 that would’ve otherwise gone to a black-tie company Christmas party to give struggling DuPage County families a holiday to remember.
It turns out, $30,000 was just a start.
Gibson employees delivered Christmas gifts, decorations, and food to the families on Dec. 9. The firm also helped each family out with specific struggles they had. For Tucker, it was money to get current on all her bills for the first time in over a year. For two of the other families, it was a new car.
Gibson vice president of human resources and training Jackie Kaweck said the overall donation was around double the planned amount—somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000.
“That’s where the story gets good,” HCS director of events Kim Stephens said. ”It was over-the-top incredible when it was a $5,000 Christmas. When it came to be this big, there aren’t words.”
Kaweck downplayed the donation total, which despite officially coming from the firm was practically right out of Wes Gibson's pocket.
"We’re not super-big on promoting the number," she said. "It was more about the spirit of the thing and what we we're trying to accomplish."
“It’s ok to hope a little bit”
Tucker has been an HCS client for seven months. She supports two daughters, ages 12 and 9, on stretched paychecks from her job at a Naperville collection agency.
Nine-year-old Emma Tucker suffered major brain trauma at age 2 when she went into cardiac arrest for an hour during a heart transplant. Doctors told Ellen her daughter would be “nonfunctional” for the rest of her life, but she has gained some use of her arms and legs and has 70 words in her vocabulary. She still, however, needs 24-hour care.
Ellen said having a child like Emma makes you forget about yourself and dedicate yourself completely to your children.
“Your hopes and dreams are gone; you don’t do it anymore,” the mother said. “What [Gibson Consulting] did was come into my home and let me know that it’s ok to hope a little bit and it’s ok to have these dreams.”
Tucker is currently pursuing a master’s degree at an online university in hopes of becoming an advocate for disabled kids like Emma. Twelve-year-old Sydney Tucker is inspired by her sister, too, and wants to be a special education teacher when she grows up.
The Tuckers’ support from HCS started with gift certificates to ALDI, and now includes help with budgeting Ellen’s income and putting together her resume. HCS has even supplied a tutor for Ellen, which came in handy for algebra classes.
Did I hear you correctly?
The Dec. 9 Gibson event began with an inauspicious phone call to HCS’ Hinsdale office in late November. A Gibson staffer told Stephens the company wanted to adopt six families for the holidays. Stephens said a lot of businesses adopt and give Christmas gifts to HCS families each year, but this request stood out.
Gibson wanted only DuPage County families who were working towards self-sufficiency and had a unique story. That same day, Stephens said, HCS came up with six “stellar” client families—two in Hinsdale, one in Westmont, and three in Willowbrook. HCS sent profiles of the families to Gibson, who then revealed their plan.
Stephens at first thought she heard the staffer wrong. She called Gibson back and asked if they meant $5,000 between the six families.
“She was laughing at this point,” Stephens said of the staffer. “We were thinking the same thing.”
HCS alerted the client families about the $5,000-each plan and asked them to put together gift lists for all family members, adults included. When HCS passed along the families’ initial lists, Gibson said they needed to be longer.
“We had to send them back to the families and say, ‘You have to put more on here,’” Stephens said.
“Happy, warm chaos”
Late on a Friday morning, teams of Gibson employees—“Gibson elves” Stephens called them—showed up at the homes. They stored groceries bought at , decorated the houses with items from , and wrapped gifts for the families' kids.
(In the interest of holiday spirit, Patch will not disclose the nature of any currently wrapped gifts. After all, recipients could be reading this story.)
“All these people kept going in and out of my house,” Tucker said. “I was stunned; all I could do was just stand there.”
Lunch was served as Christmas music played on stereos. Stephens said, “It was happy, warm chaos; it was fabulous holiday fun.”
Gifts for the adults had been pre-wrapped and were piled under Christmas trees provided by .
“When they were wrapping everything up, they were having such a great time,” Tucker said. “I was mostly talking to them about the girls and how they were going to be so excited.”
Wes Gibson and wife Linda were among the elves helping out. Tucker said they seemed “genuinely happy” and they spoke as if they were the recipients, not the donors.
“They said they were so grateful that I let them come into my home and do all of this,” Tucker said.
By mid-afternoon it was all over. Recipients were left with a kitchen full of food and a pile of presents under the tree.
"You’re so overwhelmed and so stunned that people would choose you to do this for," Tucker said.
Kaweck, the Gibson VP, said the company hopes to work with HCS in the coming years and expand the event by recruiting other Hinsdale executives to make similar donations. She said it’s a lot more gratifying than a party at the Ritz-Carlton.
“The return, if you will, is a lot higher for both your sense of contribution and your own sense of having done something good,” Kaweck said.
For the Tuckers, who bake Jesus a birthday cake every year, Christmas 2011 will be one to remember when they open up those presents still sitting under that tree.
“You don’t know what to say,” Ellen Tucker said. “Thank you is just not enough.”