Grateful toy recipient encourages generous drive-thru giving

Julie Shannon with Salvation Army teammatesWhen Julie Shannon was growing up, gifts under the tree were far from a guarantee.

“My childhood was rough,” the Salvation Army employee and Champaign native said. “Our mother was a single parent taking care of two young daughters.

“I can look back on so many occasions where if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army, my sister and I would not have had a Christmas.”

You can help make sure even more Champaign County children have a Christmas by dropping off new, unwrapped gifts and monetary donations from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, December 14 at the all-day drive through at Champaign on Mattis, 1802 S. Mattis Avenue. The yearly Salvation Army Toy Drive provides toys and gifts for children 12 and younger.

The organization that saved Shannon’s Christmas mornings is now her career.   

“When I was offered my job at the Salvation Army, I knew it was meant to be,” Shannon said.

After a childhood defined by receiving, the job gave Shannon the chance to give to those who need it most. And as she knows all too well, Christmas is one of the greatest times of need for many.

“There are families out there who find themselves in challenging circumstances and suddenly, they have no Christmas,” Shannon said.  “You have parents who are desperate, and when we offer them a way to provide for their children, many of them just break down.  

“When we offer them hope, you can see the gratitude in their face.”

Shannon wants everyone to take part in the kind of giving she’s passionate about.

“To anyone considering giving to the Carle drive, I would encourage them to remember what Christmas mornings feel like as a kid,” Shannon said.

“We want as many kids to have that feeling as possible.”

If you’re looking for some “Connected Through Giving” inspiration, please check out this can't-miss video from another Salvation Army advocate.

Dana Hagerstrom, Carle health system Community Benefit Specialist, coordinates the annual toy drive.

Like Shannon, she knows the drive can change more than a single day for families.

“The drive has the potential to change lives,” Hagerstrom said. “When people like Julie have been helped and get back on their feet, they want to give back.

“She used to receive and now she gives.”

Though her childhood was far from easy, Shannon is thankful for how it shaped her.

“My past molded me to become the person I am today,” Shannon said. “Because of it, I’m able to approach this event and relate to people with empathy and understanding.

“I’m able to give them hope.”