DIAMOND – When Trevor Perino was told he could pick out any present he wanted, he went straight for the biggest box he could find.
“There’s a rip in it. I think I can see what it is,” he said, squeezing one eye shut to peek through the Christmas tree wrapping paper.
He let out a gasp and squealed, “I think it’s a Nerf gun!”
Trevor was one of 97 children affected by the Nov. 17 tornado who were given presents Thursday at a holiday giveaway at the Diamond Banquet Hall. The event was sponsored by Assurance Technologies of Bartlett and organized by Karen Nall, executive director of the Grundy County United Way.
“Watching the news and seeing the devastation – we wanted to do something to help,” said Maria Losacco, wife of the owner of Assurance Technologies.
Nearly one month ago, Assurance Technologies sent an email asking its customers to donate toys or money for the tornado victims.
“The response was overwhelming,” Losacco said. “There was just an outpouring of support.”
The company collected more than 300 toys and hundreds of dollars in gift cards to give to children affected by the tornado. Nall said an additional $2,500 in gift cards was donated by other local organizations who heard about the event.
“While the parents are dealing with the insurance and damage to the home, the kids are having to deal with all this devastation. That’s been their reality for the last month and a half,” Nall said. “Hopefully this will give them a little break and spread some holiday cheer.”
Nall said Losacco called to donate days after the tornado hit. The two decided to look toward the holidays since there was an influx of donations immediately after the storm. They agreed that making sure the kids had presents for Christmas was the best way to help.
“We started collecting donations around Thanksgiving,” Losacco said. “This was the first time our company had ever done anything like this and it’s been really wonderful. We’ll probably do this [a toy drive] again next year.”
Losacco wrapped nearly all of the 300 presents and bought gift cards with the remaining monetary donations. Inside the banquet hall, the presents were organized by gender and age with the gift cards reserved for children 12 and up.
Each child was allowed to choose three presents.
“I’m not sure they’ll get to open them tonight. We’ll see,” said Phoebe Perino, Trevor’s mother. “We usually host Christmas at our house and luckily, we can still do that this year. We weren’t displaced so we’re thankful.”
Heidi Steffes of Diamond said she heard about the event from her daughter’s teacher and thought it sounded like a great event for the kids.
“Diamond has come together so nicely from the time it hit until now – the support, the people, the morale – it just make makes you feel really great about where you live,” Steffes said.