Happy-Christmas advocate implores you to give joyfully

Robin Mathis Salvation Army Toy DriveRobin Mathis knows how to give and how to receive. She’s grateful to be back in giving mode.

The Salvation Army Toy Drive’s “lead elf” gives to others every day. During the holidays and all year long, she helps them see even the smallest steps that can make their situations better.

She’s been there. So they listen.

For eight long months, Robin worked just enough to be able to collect unemployment while looking for full-time work. She used what money she had to pay the bills that absolutely had to be paid. She visited Champaign-Urbana food pantries, and she went without.

Her mission this holiday season—in addition to getting toys and gifts into the hands of children who might otherwise receive nothing for Christmas—is to help those of us who can contribute remove the barriers that prevent us from buying a few extra toys or donating even $15 to support our community.

The annual Carle/Salvation Army Toy Drive is a community service project of Carle and WDWS/WHMS/WKIO radio. The drive begins Monday, November 21 with the all-day drive-thru set for Wednesday, December 14. The drive to help make Christmas joyful for Champaign County children through age 12 ends Friday, December 16.

“The reality is a lot of us are one crisis away from not being able to do it on our own. We have to connect with others and to our own feelings about what it would be like to not have what we have today,” she said, switching to inspiration mode.

“Sometimes you just need a glimpse of hope for things to begin to turn around.”

Robin’s glimpse came from a phone call. Her master’s degree caused potential employers—fast food to retail and beyond—to dismiss her as overqualified.

Frustrated, exhausted and scared, the call Robin received was not a job offer.

“The woman called me, and said, ‘I can’t hire you, but I see your skills,’” she said. “I had lost so much, and I had lost my confidence.

“That call reminded me who I am.”

Soon after, she said, “I was led here. At the Salvation Army, I found the job I knew my heart wanted.”

Today, Robin’s all-year Salvation Army pet project is Pathway of Hope. It features intensive case management for people who are struggling but committed to change.

“It worked out for me, but I wish I would have had that when I was struggling,” Robin said.

Pathway of Hope supports about 15 families and individual cases at a time. With more funding, Robin knows she and her team could do even more to help people become self-sufficient.

Until that happens, Pathway of Hope success stories keep her in positivity mode.

Not long ago, a Pathway of Hope graduate ran into tough times again. With the skills she gained from Robin’s program, she was prepared. She had saved several months’ rent. She was OK.

“When someone has lifted you up and given you the tools you need, you can get through the next crisis without falling apart,” Robin said.

“You just get stronger and stronger.”

Champaign County children and families benefit from Robin’s strength and from her ability to connect to make this season brighter.

“We are so grateful for the work that Robin and the Salvation Army do to help us make sure Christmas is a happy time for our community’s children in need,” said Dana Hagerstrom, Carle Community Benefit Specialist.

“Our theme is ‘Connected Through Giving.’ Together, we can collect more gifts. Together, we can provide for local children in need. And together with Robin and the Salvation Army, we can make a bigger impact.”

That bigger-impact mode, Robin insists, is reachable.

“If I meet someone, and the compassion to give just isn’t there, I tell them to wake it up,” she said.

“When they do, when they connect, it will make them so happy to give to others however they can.”