Christmas Blessing: Community party spreads cheer and gifts for Open Door clients
SANDWICH – This Christmas, Greg S. was hoping to receive new boots.
With the help of his secret Santa, Greg received not only warm winter boots, but also a big box of crayons, an adult coloring book and a hat displaying his favorite football team, the Chicago Bears.
Greg was one of the 125 Open Door Rehabilitation Center clients who received presents through Main Street Pub and Grill’s angel tree. Open Door provides vocational, residential, day and community support and services to adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in order to promote their independence, growth and quality of life.
This was the second year Susie Perez, owner of Main Street Pub and Grill, 1 S. Main St. in Sandwich, organized a gift-giving angel tree and hosted a Christmas Party to exchange gifts on Wednesday. About 55 Open Door clients attended the party.
The angel tree has been at the restaurant since Thanksgiving. Customers and community members stopped by to choose an ornament off the tree, buy gifts on the clients’ wish list, wrap and return them in time for the Christmas party.
“No matter what they receive, from a movie to slippers, anything, whatever it is, they are so grateful and excited,” Perez said. “From the moment I first met some of them, they had my heart. They’re my whole mission, I love them and want to help them. A lot of them have nobody else, they don’t have family and it’s the holidays.”
In November, Perez hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for Open Door clients and their aides. The dinner featured 12 turkeys, appetizers, side dishes and homemade apple pies.
“Some of my customers helped by bringing in the turkeys and helping, but I did all the cooking,” Perez said. “Many of the clients at Open Door had never had a real, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, and I wanted to change that.”
Perez also has hosted a Halloween barbecue and plans on hosting a barbecue in the summer.
Secret Santas Roberta Mosley of Somonauk and Sheila Gonzalez of Sandwich attended the party to take part in the festivities and watch their gifts being opened. Gonzalez took the last two names on the tree and was excited to help. Mosley was one of the first to choose names. She also helped with the Thanksgiving dinner and last year’s Christmas party.
“I help because a lot of Open Door clients don’t have family,” Mosley said. “Some never get the chance to be with loved ones and celebrate the holidays. It’s nice to give them gifts and see the happiness on their faces. Christmas is all about the process of giving, not receiving, and I love being a part of this event.”
When Kourtney Herren became Open Door’s marketing and development coordinator about a year ago, she first heard about “Miss Susie” Perez.
“Everyone was all abuzz about Miss Susie, she had glowing reviews,” Herren said. “I just had to stop by and meet her. They just love her, they appreciate everything she does for them.
“Miss Susie is a great example of how the community helps. Everyone can do things and get involved, whether it’s something big or small,” Herren said. “They can help with a craft, read books, play a musical instrument or make a donation. It’s amazing how the community reaches out and helps, and they make such a difference.”
Debbie Rankin, sister of Open Door client Michelle B., said that what Perez, the bar patrons and the community has done is “nothing short of amazing.”
“It’s awesome, everyone gets so excited,” Rankin said. “It’s a lot of prep, but it’s worth it. Susie does a great job.”
Lee Ming, Perez’s fiancé, gives credit to the pub’s customers and the community coming together to make the event happen.
“It’s great to see how happy everyone is, everyone has a smile on their faces,” Ming said. “People in the community are the ones that really helped us pull the event off, they bought the gifts and were involved. But Susie coordinated it all. She’s a special, wonderful, giving person, and it’s obvious to see that she cares about people.”
Perez doesn’t call the gift-giving event a Christmas party, instead, she refers to it as “Open Door’s Christmas Blessing.”
“It is a blessing because they’re my blessing,” Perez said. “I only wish more towns did this. It’s hard to explain why I host the event, but it’s Christmas. I’m doing this for the people at Open Door, and that’s what Christmas is all about.