December 28, 2011 | 08:02 AMGENEVA — They're the faces people point their fingers at whenever something goes wrong, when they got pulled over for speeding or they have to pay more taxes than they thought they would.
They're the local government, the cops, highwaymen, clerks, the people behind the desks often seen as squeezing every last cent out of the public's bank accounts.
But that's likely not how five Geneva Township families will view them. Last week, town officials and employees helped these families of not-so-financially-fortunate residents by providing them with gifts.
It was the product of a holiday toy drive/family adoption program organized by Senta Hall, the town of Geneva municipal court clerk. She circulated a flier among town employees seeking donations for the effort and said during a Dec. 21 telephone interview she was surprised by the outcome.
"People were so generous," Hall said. "Instead of getting only money from each person, they would say, 'You know what? I'm going to buy for a kid.'"
Perhaps it's a Christmas miracle. However, these public servants have been in the giving mood since Thanksgiving.
Hall said she was inspired to take the reins on this toy drive/family adoption effort after witnessing the joy of giving firsthand during a food drive organized by the Geneva Town Police Department in November. She accompanied Geneva Police Sgt. Ken Mulhollon to deliver food to a local family.
The family's home was neat, Hall said, but it was small and bare.
"It made me realize how fortune me and my family are. … I don't even think I saw a TV there, which I think nowadays we use as a necessity in a way, but when we put away the food for them, I saw there wasn't much food in their refrigerator," she said.
Hall credited Geneva Police Chief Steve Hurley for giving her the idea for the holiday effort. However, on Dec. 22, Hurley said the Thanksgiving food drive was a department effort which couldn't have happened without everyone who works for the town who gave to support it. He said the idea for the Thanksgiving effort came up after talking one day about the tough economy and how it affected some of the families they encountered while doing their jobs. Hurley said for Thanksgiving, they provided six town families with 20-pound turkeys and other food items.
For the holiday effort, Hall said she went to town police for help to select the families they should help.
"Because the officers are out there having contact with the town people, they could assess what everyone's needs are," Hurley said. "I think (the Thanksgiving effort) had a great impact on us. We definitely built a bond with these people. … Most of these families are really down on their luck right now. "
He said Hall "really took the bull by the horns" with the holiday project. Hurley and Hall said it was so successful because of everyone who gave.
According to Hall, the holiday effort began with the intention of helping seven children from two families. After the donations came in, they decided to help 17 children from five families.
"We went beyond our goal," she said.
Hurley said one Highway Department member donated an artificial Christmas tree. Hall said Geneva Town Board members also made donations, and one anonymous donation provided the effort with a total of eight $30 gift cards for Piggly Wiggly.
An unexpected byproduct of this effort was it appears to have pulled town employees closer together.
"We're in one building here," Hall said, referring to her work environment in the Town Hall. "We don't see people in the other buildings."
"I think this brought us all closer together," Hurley said. "I think it blessed us many times over."
Hall said it was everybody in the town who helped make it a special Christmas for these families. She said the spirit of the holiday is to show people that others care about them.
All the families were "unbelievably gracious," Hall said.
She also witnessed, once again, the effects of a tight economy.
"One family that came in to pick up gifts had one child who didn't even have a coat that fit well enough to keep her warm," Hall said.
She said the project, which she plans to organize again next year, also made her feel blessed.
"It's funny how that could put a smile on someone else's face and it makes it worth all the effort you put into something like this," Hall said.
Hurley said an effort like this also makes an important point.
"Sure, we're government employees and we're here to serve the town, but we also want the people of this town to know we care about them," he said.