Area children donate birthday gifts to local charities

“Mom, I have too much.”

That’s how 10-year-old Chloe Walker of McHenry felt when her birthday rolled around. Instead of presents, she asked family and friends to donate to a cause she believes in.

She’s one of several area children to do so recently. Their resources might be limited, but they found a way to give back. Here are their stories:

Chloe Walker

Chloe first asked family and friends not to give her anything for Christmas. She simply wanted donations for the foster-based rescue and adoption organization Wagging Hearts (, which serves Chicagoland and Wisconsin.

The family had adopted a dog from the shelter.

“Nobody listened,” said her mother, Tara Walker. “All she got was gifts.” 

So for her birthday this year, the family, which also includes Tara’s father, Bill, and her 8-year-old sister, Hailey, hosted a donation drive and scavenger hunt. They went around the neighborhood collecting donations from about 50 people. 

Blankets, pet toys, towels, brooms, dust pans, paper towels, sponges, laundry detergent, garbage bags.

“My car was packed. I couldn’t tell you how much we got,” Tara Walker remembered. “The people at the shelter were so thrilled.” 

Chloe also hopes to volunteer with an animal shelter, and her family has contacted PetSmart in McHenry to find a time over the summer when she can help clean up in the “cat room,” where adoptable pets stay.

“I think she’s a special little girl,” Tara said. “I think she’s fabulous. She’s got a big heart. I’m extremely proud of her. ... She doesn’t need anything, and she knows it. She’d rather give than receive.”

Beth Douglass

Riding horses since the age of 5 and loving them even longer, 11-year-old Beth Douglass of Cary knew exactly what she wanted to do with her birthday money this year.

“She wanted to help the horses,” said her mother, Clair Douglass.   

Beth, also the daughter of Michael Douglass, had visited a fundraising event at Destination Safe Haven, a horse rescue and retirement facility based in Marengo, before. 

“She really kind of fell in love with the horses,” Clair said. 

She asked family and friends to bring donations instead of birthday presents and ended up with about $200 worth of supplies and feed for the agency. 

“She didn’t really need or want anything. She’s a kid, and her resources are limited, but I thought that was a pretty creative solution,” Clair said. 

The family showed up with garbage bags for cleaning stalls, large hoses, homemade horse treats and other donations.

“It was a pretty big deal for us because that doesn’t happen too often,” volunteer Lacey Anderson said. “We were really surprised because she’s so young, and we were so grateful.”

Beth had hoped to continue her fundraising efforts for the organization, perhaps hosting a grooming day with friends during the summer. 

But the nonprofit organization, which relies on volunteers and donations, has announced on its website it will be closing its doors May 15 due to lack of funding. 

“We will continue to maintain and find homes for the residents that are adoptable,” the website states. “Thank you for all of your past support - donations are still welcome as we have permanent residents to care for.”

Cole Hartke

At age 5, Cole Hartke of Crystal Lake decided to forgo his birthday gifts and give to children who aren’t as fortunate.

Upon his mother Sara’s suggestion, he asked friends and family to bring small unwrapped gifts to his birthday party. The roughly dozen or so gifts were donated to Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital. 

Cole’s birthday falls right after Christmas and Hanukkah. 

“He just gets a ton of stuff, and we have a ton of stuff,” Sara Hartke said. “He’s always been really healthy, and we’re lucky.”

After Sara mentioned the possibility of donating, Cole let all of his friends know that’s what he wanted to do. 

“He just went with it and said it isn’t a big deal,” Sara said.

Each brought toys, such as notebooks, puzzles, airplanes, transformers and more for the children at the hospital to take home with them. 

Sara has a friend that works in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit. 

The family, including Cole’s father, Dan, and 2-year-old sister, Taylor, didn’t actually get to go to the children’s rooms because of the risk of infection. But Cole was able to drop the presents off at the hospital.

“We just told him we’re really proud of him,” Sara said. 

And hospital gave him a certificate for his effort. Other parents at the birthday party said they might like to do similar efforts.

“I was kind of hoping maybe every other year he could do something,” Sara said. “As he gets older, he’ll be able to pick what he wants to do. He’ll understand it more. He has a little sister, and another baby’s on the way. We’re hoping he can set the example.”

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