Across Chicagoland, thousands of parents spent Friday in a mad dash to find just the right thing, or things, for their children to unwrap for the holidays.
But scores of other parents were shopping for something a bit more basic: a place for their children to sleep.
"I see lots of children, sadly," said Salvation Army Captain Nancy Powers. "They’ve never seen a stable home. They’ve never been a part of three meals a day and a nice warm bed."
With temperatures expected to plunge still again this weekend, the city’s social safety net will be tested anew. This fall, the Salvation Army said they cared for approximately 70 families in overflow shelters. On Saturday, the Army will accompany Santa Claus as he travels with a mobile feeding truck, seeking out children who might otherwise not see much cheer this Christmas.
"These moms would love to give their little girls a doll to hold," said Powers. "They would love to give their son a truck to play with. But they don’t have that option."
Michelle Rogers brought her four children to the Army in September after living in a city shelter where they slept on cots in a room crowded with other families.
"If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have a place to stay," she said.
Rogers has a fifth child on the way. All of her children are under the age of 6.
"Every day, we see a mother with children, or a father with children, living on the streets," said Christine Henry, the Army’s Director of Homeless Services. "[They are] living in abandoned buildings, under bridges, under Lower Wacker [Drive] -- wherever they can stay."
At the Olive Branch Mission, 65 children were under care Friday in the ministry’s shelter near West 63rd Street and South Western Avenue.
"They would be in unsafe conditions," said coordinator Doris Jackson. "They would be living in cars. They would be in the streets."
As she wrestled a rambunctious 2-year-old, mother Brenda Hampton said she was thankful to have the Mission’s services this Christmas.
"I came to be in this situation because I was staying in a place that wasn’t safe for my girls," she said.
At the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, employees were busy this week, preparing the annual toy shop, where every mother will be invited to pick out and wrap gifts for their children. But no one leaves empty handed.
"Even moms and dads will have a Christmas gift that we provide them," Powers said. "It’s a nice day. It’s a nice fun time."