But St. Matthew's Evangelican Lutheran Church's strategy of asking people to bring in the boxes, bags and cans apparently worked. The church collected 946 food items for the Niles Township Food Pantry, and won first place in the friendly competition among the Niles institutions that put up holiday trees at Golf Mill's Festival of Trees this month.
Mall-goers were asked to vote for their favorite tree by bringing in a non-perishable donation for the food pantry. Each item counted as one vote.
"This is wonderful," said Cynthia Carranza, director of the Niles Township Food Pantry, after arriving at the mall for a photo op with the winners. "The need is so great this year."
The Niles Fire Department, which won last year, came in second with 884 food items collected. Edward Jones, a financial services company, took third with 579 food items.
St. Matthew's took a multi-pronged approach to winning.
"We just talked to a lot of people about it," said Rev. Nathan Cordes, the pastor. "And Mr. Epple went out to people in the community that don't have a church home to let them know, and at least 10 households helped out."
St. Matthew's board president Phil Felice explained that the church appealed to both its English-language and Japanese-language preschool families, put a notice in community newspapers and encouraged people who came to church on Sunday.
"St. Matthew's didn't win this. Those in need in the community are the real winners," Felice clarified. "The trophy really belongs to all of the organizations that participated. Without them, we wouldn't have collected this much."
Monika Kalicki and Angelika Jurczyk of Golf Mill's marketing staff presented Cordes and Felice with an engraved crystal award and a gift certificate from Sears.
Other organizations which participated and collected food include:
- Chicago Pet Rescue, 25 items
- Gordon Food Service (GFS Marketplace), 65 items
- St. John Brebeuf, 14 items
- St. Juliana's, 77 items
- Maine Township, 33 items
- Niles Police Department, 177 items
- Niles Library, 283 items
A total of 3,083 items were collected.