The years following World War II were bleak in Britain, where food, fuel, and decent housing were in short supply and where, as with any war, children suffered the deprivation most keenly.
"Growing up the after the war there wasn't an abundance of things," said Pat Karon of Barrington, the unassuming executive director of Barrington Giving Day which, not coincidentally, showers an abundance of things on Barrington-area families in need.
Karon was born the year before the war ended. Raised in Birmingham, England, the third most heavily bombed city in the United Kingdom, she was 10 before food rationing finally ended. The youngest of seven children, Karon recalls that hungry people came to her family's door and that her mother never judged their need and never turned them away. But Lillian Gibbons went beyond giving milk, butter, and bread.
"I can remember her renting, with her own money – and we certainly didn't grow up with a lot of a money – a double decker bus and taking children to Red House Park in Great Barr," Karon said. "A park doesn't sound like a big deal. But for children growing up in a city where there are so few places to play, it's huge."
Mrs. Gibbons made sandwiches for her young day-trippers, assembled small bags of candy, Karon recalled, and enlisted the help of another adult volunteer.
"And off we went on our adventure," said Karon, who also recalls that her mother was very active in her church. "We were taught to help everybody, but especially children," she said.
That ethos made Karon the logical inheritor of Barrington Giving Day, a tradition begun by the former Church Women United of the Barrington Area, which first threw a Christmas party for migrant families in 1970, two years before a 21-year-old Pat Gibbons arrived in New York City.
"I had no intention of staying forever," said Karon, who lost both mother and father by age 16 and who continued to find ways to help children by adopting families at Christmas, she said, "as a gift to my mother, and my father, who could no longer accept gifts."
Karon met the man she would marry, Chicago native Thomas Karon, who years later would hang the imaginary ship's name Good Heart over his wife's kitchen sink, while working in New York. The couple moved to Barrington in 1975, where they raised their son and daughter. Karon, who is also a step-mother of two grown children and grandmother of three girls ("we're all very close," she says) dove into volunteering with the PTO, as a reading and math tutor, room mother, and Girl Scout leader, which is how she came to Barrington Giving Day more than 36 years ago.
The Giving Day undertaking is a massive exercise in logistics, delegation, and the rallying of troops: 500 volunteers who donate, collect, and assemble a deluge of giving that includes $14,000 in coats alone, plus food, toys, gloves, hats, blankets, books, hygiene supplies, and Nicor Gas and grocery gift cards, all for distribution on a day in December. In 2006, Karon and her longtime Giving Day partner, Jeannette Muench, aided by Barrington Bank & Trust, obtained nonprofit status for the charity which focuses its goodwill with laser precision on the families of students in Barrington Community Unit School District who are eligible for free and reduced lunches, and low-income seniors in Barrington and Cuba townships.
Karon, who with help from Muench, took over the holiday drive from Church Women United in 2005, with her knack for fundraising – though she uses words like "asking, reminding, inviting."
"Our first year, I said my goal was to raise $10,000 if I had to ring doorbells," said Karon, who still speaks with a slight English lilt. "We raised $15,000 in cash and in-kind donations for a total of $40,000. Now we need to raise $100,000 to do what we do."
The secret to Barrington Giving Day is hands-on involvement. "We try to get groups to not just give a donation, but to physically come help with Giving Day so they can see the need and see how grateful the families are," Karon said. "A child gives you a hug. A parent gives you a hug. An elderly person is unbelievably appreciative for some small gift and absolutely shocked that some stranger would remember and think of them."
About 17 percent, or 1,600, Barrington-area students are low-income. Add siblings and that's 3,000 children. Last year, Barrington Giving Day reached 1,017 families.
Karon ticks off the names of groups who form the backbone of the effort, who provide funding, volunteer hours, and goods: the Barrington Area Community Foundation, Barrington Lions Club, Barrington Junior Women's Club, Barrington area Rotary clubs, businesses, board members, police and fire, District 220 schools, the moms who hold coat drives, the children who donate their birthday gifts, the dentist who donates toothbrushes, the party hosts who ask guests to bring offerings, the volunteer teens, the Barrington High grads who have gone on to college and returned to their town and Giving Day.
Karon stops short. She hates the thought of leaving anyone out. The churches! The vicars!
No. She is not a member of any particular denomination, whispers the woman, almost apologetically, who from the womb was nourished by the tenant: see a need and respond to it.
"The need is huge and the Barrington community has always been unbelievably giving," said Karon, who doesn't like the word "needy."
"I've met people who are needy and they've got millions," Karon said. "You have no choice when you're born into this world whether you're born into opulence or not."
It was St. Matthew Lutheran in Barrington that suggested a Barrington Back to School event. Karon agreed on the condition that it be an annual commitment to provide shoes, boots, socks, and other new or gently-used clothing. The inaugural event was held in August.
"I saw a boy, about 9 or 10, holding a brand new pair of sneakers," Karon said. "His father was telling him it was okay to put the shoes on – the sole on one of his shoes was totally off – but the boy said 'No.' He finally put them on and I said 'I bet you can run faster in those shoes.' And he began running and jumping.
"Why do I keep doing this?" Karon muses. "Because it's all about the children."
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Barrington Giving Day is my favorite day of the year, because it brings our entire community together for a shared purpose and Pat Karon is the driving force behind its success. Giving Day is a labor of love for her. She shops year-round for coats and toys, always on the lookout for a bargain. She haggles with big box stores to get the best deals. She is always looking for more donations and volunteers, presenting her case year-round to Barrington area civic organizations, businesses, PTOs, churches, and individuals. She has an amazing command of facts and figures, and has many heartwarming and heartbreaking stories to tell, which has made her incredibly successful in procuring grants and checks. Starting every November, she spends part of every week day, sometimes single-handedly, sorting donated items in a local church. I don't know how her back holds up!
She is the fearless leader to all of us on the Giving Day board with her. None of us has any idea how much time she actually devotes to Giving Day (it's beyond imagining, really). As a direct result of her efforts, the items distributed to families have grown from basic food and used clothing to new outerwear for children, new toys and gifts, household supplies and more. This year there was a lot more – she conceived and carried out a new Giving Day event: the first Back-To-School distribution of clothing and shoes. It was held in August and served 247 families. I love working with Pat! She has a terrific sense of humor and an unlimited supply of compassion. I look forward to sharing 'a cuppa' as we plan this year's 'best day of the year.'
Pat is my neighbor and friend. I have known Pat since I moved to our neighborhood in 1996. My first strong memory is of Pat coming over to our yard, where my husband and I were gardening, to inform us that our hedge was overrun with weeds. We were young, what did we know? We thought buckthorn was a pretty, healthy plant. Pat could have left it at that, however, she spent the day gardening with us and turned it into a social event. That one day is symbolic of our friendship. Pat will run over to our house to check on our dogs or to make sure we turned the stove off. She'll drive us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. She'll fax paperwork to our kids' school when we've forgotten to do so ourselves. We do not have family in the area so we love that we are frequently treated to a home-cooked meal with Pat and her husband, Tom. The kindness Pat shows toward my family is indicative of the kindness she shows to all. I truly admire Pat's dedication to Barrington Giving Day. BGD is not a one-day event for Pat, it is on her mind year-round. She is always thinking of ways to make it a bigger and better event for the people it serves.
I have the pleasure of calling Pat Karon a friend and neighbor. You don't get to pick your neighbors so I feel very fortunate! I started working with Pat on Giving Day and
became more involved with the recent Back to School Event. She asked that I help with the distribution of shoes for the children. Over several weeks we shopped, hauled, and sorted hundreds of pairs of shoes. She is a lady who is constantly on the move. She has the ability to multi-task and never drop the ball. She can go from a wet basement to a boardroom and leave with donations for the children. It's all about the children and giving to those in need. For the Back to School event Pat said often, "Every child should be excited about the first day of school!" I am blessed to call her my friend.
I met Pat in 2008 through her son, David. After meeting Pat in 2008, she instantly became one of the most respected and influential people in my life. She is the accepting, playful, kindhearted, generous role model who I respect as a mother figure and socialize with as a friend. I admire Pat's commitment to helping others from a place of genuine generosity and humility. This permeates her relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, and culminates in her commitment to Giving Day. I've watched her throughout the year work to create the best event possible for the District 220's families in need. She is always brainstorming ways to enhance donations, cut administrative costs, and motivate volunteers. Her appreciative, friendly, yet persistent approach makes people want to help. I've been shopping with her for coats and boots on multiple occasions over the years and she almost always builds relationships with salespeople that bring discounts, support, and accommodations to meet the specific need she is looking to fill. She makes a point of choosing items that aren't just the best deal, but are the best quality and something that the families will like. The joys she gets in empathizing with the families served by BGD shines through when she gets excited about the pink coat that is not only warm and affordable, but will look "soooo cute" with the sparkly pink cowboy boots – or when we're sitting on the floor of her living room surrounded by mountains of donated makeup that we spend hours sorting and packaging so that the families can have something that looks beautiful.
Pat wants these families to feel special. She wants the parents to feel proud that they are able to give their children something new. She works to instill a sense of pride and honor in the families, rather than making them feel like they are accepting charity. She works for them and has the utmost respect for them.
Pat Karon is a great asset to the Barrington community for the 37 years that she has lived here. Working with her husband, Tom, Pat was a small business owner in town. With two small children, Rachel and David, Pat was a known force in their schooling as room mother, PTO and helping with special events each year. When her daughter became interested in Scouts, Pat became the Scout leader through middle school. About 10 years ago, Pat got involved with her Homeowners Association, working her way to president in the last four years, a title she still retains. For the past 32 years, Giving Day has been her personal passion. Working in various roles over these years, Pat succeeded in working with an attorney in securing the 501c(3) for this "program" to turn into a real nonprofit. As president, she managed to completely revamp the entire organization by involving not only the students at the elementary, middle and high school, but every organization, church, business, and corporation in town. Because of her tireless energy, organizational abilities, and belief in what she does, hundreds of families in our area are able to have a memorable Christmas.
We have had the pleasure of working with Pat on Barrington Giving Day since 2005 (JP) and 2008 (Lauren). Pat exemplifies what it means to be a humanitarian, and she does so out of the goodness of own her heart, expecting nothing in return. What drives Pat to undertake such a tremendous endeavor each and every year is the children. Pat is a role model for us because she advocates for the many children in our community who are born into less than fortunate situations and need the community's support. Barrington Giving Day makes the holiday season brighter for these children and their families. Pat's enthusiasm and dedication to Barrington Giving Day is contagious. It is difficult to resist helping the cause after meeting Pat. Simply put, without Pat, Barrington Giving Day would not exist. It is our privilege to work with her on something so important, but most of all, we are honored to call such an incredible person a friend.
We have been neighbors of Pat's for over 13 years. Pat has always been involved in keeping our subdivision a great place to live. We know her dedication and commitment as we have both served on the board with Pat, and she continues to serve as its current president. She has served on several committees and does this while working on Barrington Giving Day year-round.
We believe that an important aspect for Pat is getting all ages involved in some way. Our whole family has been involved for years as well as most of our neighbors. She has a way about her that encourages all to help. She started a youth board at the high school where our son Joey is involved. Joey has been helping Pat since middle school and we can confirm that she is working on BGD all year long! She involves the football team and other organizations at the high school to gather coats and donations. She works with neighbors, families, schools, churches, businesses, and organizations that rally together to participate. Because of Pat's encouragement, everyone comes together to help others. Through her tireless efforts, she has helped provide food, coats, blankets, books, and toys to hundreds of District 220 families each year. Pat always has a saying to make you smile. Her British accent helps, too.
We and our three girls have been very privileged to be a part of Barrington Giving Day for nearly 25 years, watching our community come together each December (and now, in August before school!) to provide winter coats, food, toys, books, and other essentials to District 220 families. But that great event does not just happen. Pat Karon has been the essential bridge between Barrington Giving Day's humble beginnings as a grassroots effort run by a few dedicated individuals, to what it has become today: a broad-based, Barrington area-wide campaign to address the unmet needs of families that live in every corner and neighborhood within District 220.
Pat possesses the rare ability to be both a tremendous leader and yet work tirelessly in the trenches. She is an absolute delight to work for and with, and she is the absolute master of the "ask." Perhaps it is that charming British accent that makes it nearly impossible to respond with anything but "yes!" when she asks for anything on behalf of BGD. Pat's tireless pursuit of an ever-warmer and richer experience for our BGD families is inspiring – each December, it seems that just as the last "borrowed" poinsettias are returned to Barrington Flower Shop, marking the end of yet another bountiful BGD event at Station Middle School, Pat is already plotting ways to make things bigger and more abundant for the following year. Her astounding energies kick into high gear when it comes to BGD. Not only does she recruit her entire neighborhood to join in the BGD effort, Pat has forged critical relationships with so many BGD donors, creating a legion of generous BGD friends, both private and corporate.
It has been such a monumental joy for us to be a small part of the exponential growth in size and scope of Barrington Giving Day on Pat's watch. And, Pat has done it all with vigilant regard for the dignity of families served by BGD. Giving Day is, to us and our three girls, the single most impactful and immediate way to make a difference in the lives of families who we live with and among – and we owe so much to Pat Karon for galvanizing Barrington to make that event happen!
I have known Pat for more than 40 years as my stepmother and friend. Devoting countless hours to Giving Day has turned into a full year project. She is so passionate that through the years she has enlisted the help of family and friends to work and support Giving Day. Pat's home has begun to look like a winter warehouse!
On a personal note, she is extraordinarily generous with her time to family and friends. For example, she came to our home to take care of our teenage daughter so my husband and I could go away for the weekend. While we were gone, her creative side came out, and she and our daughter not only repainted but completely redecorated her room. Pat would do almost anything for family and friends. In my parent's kitchen, a sign hangs above the sink - a gift from my father many years ago - that describes Pat to a "t". It reads "GOODHEART."
Barrington Giving Day is made possible with a wide variety of donated goods. It can also use financial donations. If you wish to contribute, please use this information. For more information, visit www.barringtongivingday.org.
Checks may be made payable to:
Barrington Giving Day
c/o John Paul Hills, Barrington Bank & Trust
201 S. Hough St., Barrington, IL. 60010.
Judy Masterson is a writer who lives in Lake County.
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