Through her organization It's Our Little Secret and the donations of others, Kristie Sams-Faulkner is giving at least 300 abused children the Christmas she'd give her own kids.
The 5-year-old organization, based in Huntley, helps children and teens who've been sexually, physically or emotionally abused. A victim of abuse growing up, Sams-Faulkner founded and serves as executive director of the group with the goal of being a voice for others who've suffered at the hands of someone else.
The group's fourth annual toy drive will bring more than 1,000 toys to children and teens in foster care throughout the area. While many fundraisers provide single toys to children and usually not teens, It's Our Little Secret is giving each child up to age 21 this year three toys and a blanket, Sams-Faulkner said.
"I grew up in the system. I would get a toy, and it wouldn't even have my name on it," Sams-Faulkner said. "We go above and beyond. We don't want to do the minimum for these kids. … I never had a Christmas like these kids have. They deserve it."
It's Our Little Secret works with the Department of Children and Family Services and the McHenry County Youth Service Bureau to identify children and teens. Each makes a wish list of what they'd like for Christmas.
The unwrapped toys, as well as blankets provided by the the Linus Project of McHenry County, are given to foster families to give out for Christmas.
Toys have been donated through individuals, businesses, schools and day cares.
"People are just incredible," Sams-Faulkner said. "The kids are getting bikes and iPods and exactly what I'd get for my own children."
Unlike other organizations, It's Our Little Secret helps a higher percentage of teens, roughly 67 percent of those helped by the toy drive this year. And the gifts for teens typically can be more expensive.
Still, through both cash and toy donations, the group has been able to give that minimum of three, sometimes more, gifts to at least 1,200 children in four years. At least 4,000 toys have been given out, Sams-Faulkner said.
She and other volunteers have spent the past week picking up donations and sorting toys. Toys that were given included skateboards, necklace sets, Barbie sets, scooters, MP3 players, digital cameras and video games.
Places, such as Susana's Home Daycare in Huntley, Husmann Elementary School in Crystal Lake and numerous others hosted their own toy drives to donate to It's Our Little Secret.