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Good Cause: Hesed worker makes sure Christmas comes
by Cathy Janek
Special to the Tribune

Dec. 22 5:03 p.m.

Hesed House’s Tom Aguillar may shrug off any comparisons to Santa, but for many years, he has been just that.

Tom has acted as an “elf behind the scene” bringing Christmas to guests of the Aurora-based Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois.

Through donations from more than 90 community groups, on Christmas Eve, a building across the street from Hesed House is transformed into a very special place so that Hesed House guests can “shop” for Christmas gifts including toys and clothes themselves and their families.

Typically, anywhere from 150 to 220 people find themselves spending Christmas Eve at the shelter.

For those people, it is one way we can give them a little bit of Christmas joy, Tom said.

Rather than “gently used,” he added that this is one time a year he works especially hard to make sure every item in the Christmas store is new.

Each year, the Christmas store becomes a reality due to the amazing and generous donations by our community and the hard work and organization efforts put in by Tom, Bruce Bachmeier, Hesed House’s director of volunteers said.

“Tom goes above and beyond to make sure that each guest has something special for themselves and loved ones by stocking the store with new donations,” Bruce said.

“It is important to him not to have the satisfaction of seeing each person and family go through and shop, but to work behind the scenes to make sure that there is something special there for every person staying at Hesed House,” he added. “Tom is an extremely hard worker with a caring heart.”

Early on Christmas Eve, adults are given vouchers for themselves and for each of their children and take turns shopping at the store.

“My skills are in the organizational area, so this is my Christmas gift to Hesed House,” Tom said.

For Tom, the experience of seeing the community in action from businesses, church groups, student groups, and families bringing is “overwhelming.”

“The community is amazingly supportive,” Tom said.

Especially touching, he added is to see student groups from Waubonsee Valley High School buy gifts for the shelter that they would buy for themselves. Also touching is children who forgo getting presents for their own birthdays and who instead ask for donations for the Hesed House Christmas store.

One of the most important gift items at the Christmas store is thermal underwear. “It’s not a glamorous thing, but layering is a necessity in the colder months,” Tom said.

In addition, he said the shelter is always in need of new clothing items for women. “When people think of homelessness, they often think only of men as being homeless,” Tom said.

In addition to the Christmas store, Hesed House sponsors an Adopt-A-Family program to help residents of community who are living in a home or in transitional housing that also may need a little extra assistance providing Christmas gifts to their families.

“This lets the families that we “adopt out” experience the joy of opening up presents on Christmas morning and spend some quality time together,” Bruce said.

We are so grateful for every donation we receive, Bruce said. Since Hesed House is open every day, all day, we have daily needs to keep the shelter running he added.

Tom in Christmas Store

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