With her familiar big smile and extending a handshake to all who entered the room, Chanooka Wish founder and President Carolyn Koranda thanked everyone who attended the open house, celebrating the organization's 10-year anniversary.
Along with the public, Koranda had invited those who either helped the organization get its start or has continued to support it along the way. The guest list included officers from the Channahon Police Department, the Channahon fire chief and firefighters from the fire department, Minooka Mayor Pat Brennan and Channahon Park District Executive Director Chuck Szoke.
Koranda's drive to make Chanooka Wish successful – in the midst of raising three kids, having a firefighter husband as a board member (Al Koranda) and working – stems from her own childhood of being "one of those kids who went to school with holes in her shoes and no food in her stomachs."
Koranda is not shy sharing her past; in fact, she wants people in need to know she understands the feelings of not having enough, not measuring up and not wanting to ask for help.
Koranda credits her sister, Pam Heiy, a Chanooka Wish volunteer, with "tattling" on her mom when the kids were hungry.
The four young sisters at the time were in a program at church when Pam stood next to the instructor's desk salivating over a box of doughnuts. When the instructor asked why she wasn't reading her book, Pam had no hesitation in exclaiming they hadn't had food yet that day.
While their mom resisted help from the church at first, baskets of food became a regular reality for the family who eventually had five children to feed. Koranda's mom later started many programs at the church to return the kindness.
When the organization Helping Hands, run by members of Channahon Police Department, decided to dissolve, Koranda, a volunteer, jumped in with both feet and started Chanooka Wish to take up the slack.
Her first program was helping to organize the Thanksgiving meal drive along with the Minooka Lions Club. With a bake sale held during a St. Baldrick's fundraiser, Chanooka Wish volunteers collected money to buy Christmas toys and food for local families in need.
The organization was run out of the Koranda home for many years. Her three children, two of whom were born after the inception of the organization, have only known holidays filled with boxing food, wrapping gifts and working to help those less fortunate.
Now the nonprofit organization is renting its first space on Thomas Dillion Drive, which includes storage space, a huge foyer and conference room where distributions can be held, and for the first time, an actual office – furnished by items donated to the organization.
It was a difficult decision for Koranda to designate money to pay rent instead of using it for people who need it, but Chanooka Wish has grown so exponentially that it was a logical next step.
The organization now collaborates with 50 other agencies in the area so services aren't duplicated, including Minooka Women's Club, church food pantries, Channahon Park District, Lions Clubs ... the list goes on.
Koranda and the handful of regular volunteers who make up the board would like to see more sponsorship from area businesses so they can continue expanding things such as the school supply program, which costs families between $65 and $80 a year per child. It's the organization's biggest growing program right now.
Chanooka Wish has gotten involved with Safety First, a program through the Channahon and Minooka fire districts that buys and installs smoke alarms mostly for senior citizens but for anyone in need.
The open house also was an opportunity to pick the brains of people from other organizations and see where they can collaborate or fill in gaps to help determine their path for the next 10 years.
By evening's end, there was a possible candidate for an opening as volunteer secretary and volunteers proposed brainstorming with Shorewood HUGS on a program, among other great ideas.
"Now that the economy is back on track, what else can we do to help people?" Koranda said. "We are trying to build resources for tomorrow. Chanooka Wish needs to reach into that and find out what we need to do."
• Kris Stadalsky writes about people and issues in areas southwest of Joliet. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.