The ARK’s Chanukah Gift Wishes Program  Brings Light to Chicagoland Jewish Families 


“Frozen” pajamas. Chicago Bears sweatshirts. Dozens of crockpots—and 90 postage stamps. These are just a few of the more than 1,500 gifts received by local Jewish families and individuals this Chanukah, through The ARK’s annual “Chanukah Gift Wishes” program. For more than fifteen years, hundreds of volunteers and donors have joined together to make Chanukah a little brighter for their Chicagoland Jewish neighbors facing tough times. 

Beginning in the fall each year, clients of The ARK write “wish lists” of items they’d like to receive for Chanukah. ARK case managers collect the wish lists, and replace clients’ names with code numbers to protect their privacy. The anonymous lists then go to the Volunteer Department, where they are distributed to donors who have offered to fulfill the requests. The donors shop for the gifts (using their own money) and bring them to The ARK, where case managers then give them to their clients. Generally, there is a suggested limit of $50 per gift; many donors sponsor gifts for entire families.

“This was a wonderful experience for our whole family,” says Sara T. of Chicago, who went shopping with her four children, ages 2 through 9. “It was a perfect opportunity to explain to them that some children don’t have so many toys or other things we have. I think they really understand now—at least the older kids do.” Donors also buy wrapping paper, which clients can then take home, to wrap the gifts for their own children. The ARK also distributed thousands of dollars’ worth of Target and Walmart gift cards, enabling clients to shop for their own gifts. 

The most popular items typically requested by children are the latest toys or games—but also slippers and sweaters. “Children from large families, especially, are often wearing hand-me-downs from their older siblings,” explains Dr. Vicki Hass, The ARK’s Clinical Director. “Having brand-new clothing can be very exciting.” Adults often request household items, such as sheets and towels, or kitchen appliances. Carol Harris, Director of Volunteers, points out that this reflects the financial struggles of many of our clients; items that many of us would consider “standard” are actually luxuries for families just trying to keep up with the bills each month.

Last week, a grateful client sent this note to her case manager: “I just got the coffeemaker that you got for me….I wanted to tell you how touched and amazed I am that we were able to get presents like that and that we’re able to receive such help and compassion from such an amazing organization. We’re so blessed by you and The ARK.”

The ARK provides a wide variety of vital services—medical and dental care, prescriptions, kosher food pantry, counseling, rent assistance, and more. All services are provided in accordance with Halacha, and are completely free of charge. If you or someone you know needs help, contact The ARK at 773-973-1000 or [email protected]. All inquiries are strictly confidential.

[Photo captions: 

ARK case manager Yechiel Silber gives a client the Chanukah gift she requested, which was purchased by a volunteer donor in The ARK’s Chanukah Gift Wishes program. 

Just a few of the 1,517 Chanukah gifts requested by ARK clients and purchased by community donors]