BLOOMINGTON — Shirley LeVeque knows about helping the less fortunate.
In 2002, LeVeque and her husband, Richard, helped make Christmas for dozens of local families by rescuing hundreds of usable toys and shoes from trash containers at Goodwill Industries in Normal, according to a Pantagraph story published that Christmas Eve.
This year, LeVeque will be on the receiving end, thanks to The Pantagraph's Goodfellow Fund and generous donations from the community.
“Since my husband died, I’ve been on a limited income, $900 a month, and $380 of that is rent. ... I’m on pain medication constantly, and I have no family that lives here in town, so I’m kind of on my own,” she said. “I haven't always been this poor, and I always try to help people, but now I need a little help myself."
LeVeque will be one of nearly 2,000 people helped next month by the fund, which pays for food baskets, blankets, hams and gift cards that are distributed throughout Central Illinois by Pantagraph employees.
Goodfellow, in its 90th year, raised more than $55,121 last year and helped 1,308 people in Central Illinois, including residents in nursing homes and needy children and families.
The first list of this year's donors will be in today’s edition. Donations can be made year-round; donors usually give in honor of loved ones, soldiers, pets, co-workers or emergency workers.
For Karen Munz of Fairbury, donating to Goodfellow is a way to honor her son, Brian, a firefighter who died fighting a fire in 2008, and her father, Charles Haley, "who liked to help people." The retired substitute teacher donated $50.
"I like to give to funds where the money goes directly to helping people, and the Goodfellow (fund) goes directly to helping people,” she said. "Being a teacher, I saw the great need for clothes and food in Central Illinois.”
The Woman's Club of Bloomington-Normal donated $250 in part because Goodfellow supports senior citizens, said co-president Donna Dickson.
“Many of our members are senior citizens, and they know the need,” she said. “This is a white-collar community, but there are so many that don’t have enough. I feel like it’s our duty to help when we can. Our main purpose of our club is to be philanthropic and help out those who need it.”
To find those who need a hand, The Pantagraph partners with groups that include The Salvation Army and Safe Harbor shelter, PATH, Mayor’s Manor, Heartland Head Start, St. Mary’s Church, Mid Central Community Action, Western Avenue Community Center, Children’s Advocacy Center, Livingston County Housing Authority and Peace Meals.
For St. Mary's, the partnership has been very fruitful, said Tina Boettcher, director of religious education.
"Our congregation is very generous to people in need, but there’s so many people who fall through the cracks,” she said. “(Goodfellow) has made a huge difference to so many families.”
Boettcher said she's been touched by how recipients react to their Goodfellow packages.
"There’s been many tears when they come to pick it up. They’re so touched that somebody cared,” she said. "More than one family has gotten food through Goodfellow and invited friends over who don’t have a meal. They are always so generous with everything they have."
LeVeque is an example. She said every part of her package gets used every year, including the parts she doesn't personally need.
“My neighbor that lives behind me has Huntington’s (Disease), and I gave her the blanket so she could wrap up when she visited her mother out of state on a bus,” she said.
Boettcher said she hopes to see Goodfellow, and its donors, helping the community for years to come.
“It’s amazing, the generosity of people to Goodfellow. It renews your faith in people that people will make donations to this and somebody that’s having a hard time will get some help," she said.