SAYBROOK - Saybrook's Giving Grandma will attend a company Christmas party tonight when her elves will deliver presents to children in the community.
Linda Hart of Saybrook was touched by children who wouldn't get much for Christmas. Four years ago, she started gathering money at Casey's General store, where she works, and then shopping for the children and delivering presents.
The first year, she provided gifts for nine children. This year, 21 will receive gifts.
"I know about all the kids in town," said Hart, who has always lived in the McLean County village. She has a list of their needs and checks it more than twice; she doesn't deliver presents herself because she wants children to know they are from Santa.
"My family was having hard times when I was little," she recalls. "One year I got a used bicycle for Christmas. I just loved it."
With that in mind, she accepts donations of used toys and clothes in good condition as well as new toys. She uses cash donations to buy and wrap them. She expects she will still be shopping today.
The first year, she called Casey's corporate office, asked for a donation, and got permission to leave a collection canister on the counter.
This year, the Christmas Wishes project has raised more than $700. "I just shake my head," she said of the generosity of a community with a population of fewer than 800 on less than a square mile of land.
The Sons of the American Legion gave $200 this year - the biggest donation so far. "It's gone wild. Every year it just gets bigger and better. I'm really proud of it," she said.
Her children and grandchildren help deliver the presents on Christmas Eve.
Jamie Hart, 23, of Normal helps her grandma with the shopping because she is a little closer to the children's aged and knows what trends are popular.
"It's hard to know what kind of clothes young girls like now," acknowledges Linda Hart.
Her daughter, Lori Hart, also helps. "It gives you a warm feeling that you are helping other," she said.
Next year, Hart wants to provide Christmas dinner for people who otherwise would be alone.