Teens wrap presents, stuff stockings at Neighborhood House

Nona Tepper

PEORIA — Volunteering at Neighborhood House Thursday let Jade Cobb spend time with her friends in Service Club at Germantown Hills Middle School, and get into the spirit of Christmas, her favorite time of year.

"It's all about believing," she said of the season.

Larry Von Behren, director of operations at Neighborhood House, said about 900 children will receive between three and four gifts from the Toy Shop this year as part of the center's "work to spread Christmas spirit." The Toy Shop has been open for business 77 years this December.

The cost to enter is $5 per child.

"It's a highlight of the year to be able to provide toys for children who otherwise would not get toys," Von Behren said.

To qualify to shop at the Toy Shop, parents must either be working, going to school or receiving unemployment. Registration ends Dec. 7, and the shop opens Dec. 13 and 14.

Germantown Hills Middle School Principal Dave Raffel said he considers gift-giving a part of a middle-schooler's education.

"At Germantown, we do a good job of teaching kids reading and math," he said. "But I believe teaching kids to give back to their community is just as important."

Dominick Signa said he enjoyed sorting presents at Neighborhood House, but didn't feel like he learned anything new. The 12-year-old said his best friend's family used to receive gifts from an establishment similar to Neighborhood House.

"It gives me a sense of gratitude," he said. "Knowing that I maybe changed someone's life and helped them in a good way."