Bags of groceries seven deep surrounded the gym at the Darien Park District Saturday morning.
That wasn't the only space overflowing with canned goods, boxes of macaroni and cartons of oatmeal. There were more provisions in a meeting room. And in the parking lot was a truck filled with gallons of milk, hams and turkeys ready for roasting.
But the bountiful cornucopia didn't last long at the Community Center. Dozens of Lions arrived bright and early to deliver the donated foodstuffs, along with wrapped toys, to needy families in Darien and neighboring suburbs.
During the past few weeks, the Lions Club gathered nonperishable food items, as well as cash donations, as part of its annual Food Basket Program. Over the same time period, the Park District collected unused toys for children 14 and younger.
This year, the club will feed about 210 families during the holiday season.
That's up from 180 families last year, said acting chair Tony Gricus. Gricus chaired the event last year, too, and stepped in after this year's chair, Bill Bucholz, underwent quadruple-bypass surgery.
"We thought people would really get hit with the economy last year, but it was this year," he said. While the number of needy families was up, the quantity of donations was down, making it a challenge for the Lions Club to meet its goal.
But Gricus said by using some funds from the Lions' charitable foundation, the club was able to provide for the 200-plus families who needed help.
All together, co-chair and past club president Dan Kaminski estimated the club distributed 29,000 pounds of food this year.
"It's one of our events that really reaches out to the community," he said.
Nearly 100 percent of the club participates on delivery day, Bucholz said . Spouses and children often help the members out too.
Eileen Littmann, wife of Lion Rusty Littmann, said the best part is seeing how excited children get when the volunteers come to the door. Together, the club and the Park District ensure that the event is as personalized as possible.
"Last year, I asked a child, 'I bet you're about six years old,'" Eileen said. "He said, 'Woah, how did you know that?' He didn't know it was written on a card."
Chris Katsougris, the Park District's assistant director, coordinates the toy drive and identifies needy families with the help of social workers in area schools.
"You can just feel the joy going out the door with what we're doing for the families," she said. "It's really heartwarming to see the children that are helping too."
In addition to helping families in Darien, the program also reaches out to people in Westmont, Woodridge, Downers Grove and Willowbrook, said club President Brian Kiefer. A few Lions from the Westmont club came to help deliver food.
"[Hunger] is a pressing problem, and we're glad to have so much help," Kiefer said.