MOKENA - What began as a mission to provide holiday toys to two needy children grew into a movement for one south suburban mom.
Over a decade later, she makes sure hundreds of children feel loved and cared for all year long.
Diane Carroll raised three kids as a single mom. She knew how tough it was to pay the bills and provide for her family. So she says once she got a good paying job, she wanted to care of other children and that's exactly what she did.
Over the years, thousands of children have been cared for by My Joyful Heart, which is a non-profit that Carroll started in her basement 18 years ago.
The organization now fills a 9,000 square-foot warehouse in Mokena.
"This is what we deal with. Children that, they don't have much in their lives. A lot of them are homeless. And they're living among all the violence. So when we give them these bags, they really are bags filled with love,” Carroll said.
Five times a year, school children in the program receive care packages hand selected by volunteers.
"It’s not just one gift, it's not a one size fits all organization. We treat each child as an individual with their individual needs; their colors, their likes, everything is done specifically for that one child,” Carroll said.
Carroll wants those kids to know they are loved. Not just during the holidays, but every day.
She started the organization after buying Christmas gifts anonymously through charity for a little girl and a little boy.
"Then in January when I went back to work with the New Year, it was really heavy on my heart, I think the Lord was speaking to me in finding out what happened to those two children after Christmas,” Carroll said.
She followed up and discovered they had many needs, and they were not alone.
"And once that rent is paid, our parents don't really have funds, barely to buy food, so the extra necessities from My Joyful Heart really helps,” said Aline McDowell, Harvey Public School District Parent Coordinator.
Both McDowell and Arletha Bolton work in the Harvey school district. At times, 200 students there have received assistance.
"It's just something special that gets them over the edge and we all need somebody to get us over a hump sometimes,” McDowell said.
Carroll and her volunteers rarely meet the children, but they do receive thank you cards.
"The one sentence that stood out the most was, ‘Things are going ok for me. I just turned 15. I guess it's great I got to live another year,’” Carroll said. "’And after all the things that my family has been through, you have been there the most to help us.’ This paper says many thanks, but it's really many and forever thanks."
My Joyful Heart currently serves over a dozen school districts throughout Chicago and the suburbs. You can help the organization by going to myjoyfulheart.org.