ALGONQUIN – The Meijer shopping center in Algonquin is used to seeing busy shoppers rush through its store, crossing off shopping lists during the holiday season. But on Wednesday, one group of shoppers took some time to buy presents for children in need.
Armed with a $2,000 gift card from Meijer, Buck Vander Leest of the McHenry County Marine Corp Reserve spent Wednesday morning picking out gifts for Toys for Tots, an organization that provides toys for area children in need.
Along with his wife and daughter, Vander Leest pushed several carts up and down aisles, picking up footballs, Nerf guns, LEGOs and other toys for McHenry County kids.
“It's very rewarding,” said Vander Leest, who served in the Marine Corp in the late 1950s and was stationed in Japan. “There's definitely a need for this in our area.”
The toys bought Wednesday would be taken to the local Salvation Army, which Vander Leest said was lacking in donations during the holiday season.
“Their donations have been down,” he said. “I wanted to make sure this batch went to them.”
Meijer and the Marine Corp have a long-standing relationship of providing presents to Toys for Tots.
Kathi Phillips, retail administrative assistant at Meijer, said the company takes pride in providing toys for children in need.
“When economic times are as bad as they are, a lot of organizations are cutting back [donating to charity],” Phillips said. “Fortunately, Meijer is not. We're still in a position where we can help the community that we serve.”
Phillips has shopped alongside Vander Leest since he began six years ago and said the annual ritual is one of her favorite days of the year.
“The thought of giving a kid a present to open on Christmas who otherwise wouldn't have something, it's very heartwarming,” she said.
Vander Leest's wife, Romaine Vander Leest, has been coming to the Algonquin Meijer for the past six years and said she enjoys helping her husband for this good cause.
“Buck's been wrecked up with his shoulder so I've helped out a lot more this year,” she said. “We're slowing down, but we'll continue doing this as long as we can.”
Watching Vander Leest unload toys from his cart onto the scanner, Phillips reflected on his passion for giving to others.
“The holidays bring out a lot of good in people,” Phillips said. “Buck reassures that there's still good people out there.”