It’s not about the wish – it’s about the people the wishes help. This is what the members of HUGS believe in as they grant wish after wish each year.
Shorewood HUGS is a nonprofit organization providing wishes to families within 20 miles of Shorewood.
The organization grants about 50 wishes a year. In the past five years, the number of wishes granted increased to 100 recipients a year.
“The heart of our organization is the Hugs and Wishes Program. When wishes are submitted, and reviewed, they are then assigned to a HUGS member. Before we grant a wish, we read the request to better understand the situation and how we can help to fulfill this wish or need,” said Jackie O’Hara, vice president of Shorewood HUGS.
Requests are sent through the Hugs website, and then HUGS wish coordinator Natalie Mareci discusses each request with groups that meet the requirements.
“We fulfill wishes for those who are going through a difficult time, are disabled, or are considered worthy of a wish,” Mareci said. “We’ve had a handful of wishes that we delivered in Morris.”
She said that not many have heard of the Morris organization, so surprising people with a wish and a bear is a shining moment for its members. Morris lies within the 20-mile radius and has begun to extend more of its residents’ wishes as more requests are sent through the Shorewood HUGS website.
“Since we are a local organization, many of our members live in the Shorewood area but our hugs and wishes program is available to those that live within 20 miles of Shorewood, which includes Morris. We want to continue spreading the word to those who meet the criteria,” O’Hara said.
Peg Ebert is one of the wish committee members that delivers wishes in Morris. Delivering wishes is not an easy job. HUGS members meet people who’ve lost a loved one to one battling with cancer or people who lost everything they had.
“One wish that was delivered was to a family who lost everything in house fire,” Ebert said.
Ebert remembers the first wish she delivered in Morris.
“My first one here [was for] two teenagers who lost both their parents within a short time period,” she said.
Each wish is assigned to one of the members who reads the background of the recipient to see how the person or family can be helped. Ebert recently delivered a wish to a friend in Morris who is in hospice.
To the recipients, it’s not just the wish that bonds the recipient to the HUGS organization, it’s the fact that someone thought about them.
Wish recipients often are surprised by a phone call from a HUGS member letting them know they’ve received a wish from a friend, family member or co-worker.
HUGS partners with local organizations within the community on wishes.
“Shorewood HUGS worked on a wish with Team Make a Difference, out of Morris, where HUGS provided a wish for a family and Team Make a Difference remodeled a room,” HUGS President Susan Underwood said. HUGS continues to work with other nonprofit organizations to help families in need.
While HUGS doesn’t pay bills or have celebrity appearances, they do provide help in the best way they can provide to each recipient.
“To know that I am helping someone going through a tough time is really an amazing feeling. To see the smiles, the tears, the shocked faces is just a joy to me,” Ebert said. “With each wish I deliver, whether I know them or not, I feel humbled to bring some joy in the midst of their current stress, struggle, health issue.”
The annual chocolate ball, which will be held Feb. 3, is HUGS’ main fundraiser relied on to grant wishes around the community. Tickets for the ball sell quickly. Guests from Will, Cook and Grundy counties previously have attended to support HUGS and their Hugs and Wishes program.
Each year, the organization creates a unique theme for the ball – this year’s theme is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Shorewood HUGS is celebrating its 10th year of providing wishes to those in need and have fulfilled more than 570 wishes to date.
If you know someone who in need of a wish, Shorewood HUGS helps those who are: in need, disabled and deserving. For information or to submit a wish request, visit www.shorewoodhugs.org.