Holiday shopping was made easy for parents last Saturday with a free babysitting service at the Howard Mohr Community Center.
A $50 receipt from any Forest Park business bought parents nine hours of kid-free shopping. Roughly 25 kids were dropped off during the course of the day, leaving them to a handful of staff members and volunteers who entertained them with movies and festive holiday activities.
Patty Marino, who works at the community center, said she was happy with the turnout, though she and the other staff members were prepared to accommodate 100 kids if they needed to.
“This is a great crowd of kids,” Marino said. “And we’ve planned plenty of things for them to do. We’re balancing organized games with free time.”
The kids spent the greater part of their day working on holiday crafts. They made foam snowmen and decorated snowflake ornaments. They also watched movies and played video games, dodge ball, and Christmas bingo. The kids were given lunch and snacks throughout the day.
“I got all my Santa shopping done today,” Julie Garcia, a mother of two, said. “I hope the community center does it again next year. If the boys didn’t have hockey practice, they’d be staying here much longer.”
A similar event held on Nov. 25 saw only one parent take advantage of the program.
On that date, receipts from retailers only served as vouchers for the free daycare.
At 1 p.m., Santa surprised the kids while they were watching a movie. And in typical Santa-fashion, he brought with him a large bag of gifts, which were given to the kids based on age and gender. The presents were donated to the community center through bulk mail.
“There are a lot of great things about the free daycare service, but what’s most appealing to me is that it’s done through the park district,” Kate Sheinis, who dropped her son off in the afternoon, said. “The staff is great. They plan great activities for the kids. As a mother of a 4-year-old boy, I don’t like leaving him with people I don’t know.”
While most of the kids were new to the community center, a few of them have attended the after school program.
Lisa Richards, who attends Triton College and works at the center, said the best part of her job was working with the kids.
“I love everything about this job,” Richards said. “The kids are so much fun, and so are the people that work here.”