Reprinted with permission from The Herald News. Story by Allison Selk, Shaw Media correspondent. Allie Rios graduated from USF in 2001.
To honor her mother’s memory and make Christmas a fun holiday again for her family after the loss, Allie Rios of Joliet took it upon herself to provide for women and children in her community who struggled.
Eight years ago, Rios and her husband, Jaime Rios, began buying Christmas presents for children at Lamb’s Fold shelter in Joliet.
“I thought to myself, we could make this bigger and more people could do this. I put information on Facebook of what the children needed and we had over 20 people respond,” Rios said. “And, they didn’t just buy one toy. Most of them took it to the next level and bought clothes, pajamas, coats, toys and more.”
High school friend, Heather Warthen, said even though she and Rios haven’t kept in touch in the 15 years since their time together at Providence Catholic High School, she always keeps a close eye on what she is up to throughout the year for Lamb’s Fold.
“She will create spreadsheets with information and post it on Facebook where each person can comment on what they are going to buy for the children,” Warthen said. “She is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.”
Rios has Christmas gifts on her mind year-round for the women and children of Lamb’s Fold.
“I will find good sales and deals at the end of the seasons and post them so people can buy and save it for Christmas,” she said. “I know people work hard for their money, but one way to be able to help is
sacrifice one coffee out each week for a year, and by Christmas, they would have money for gifts.”
Last year, Rios’s efforts extended into helping the mothers at the shelter as well. She and her group helped more than 40 children as well as 20 mothers.
“What touches me is what these kids have on their lists,” she said. “There are always a few ‘normal’ kid requests, but the rest are items like socks, pajamas and clothes. My 9-year-old can’t quite understand why a kid would ask for these things. I respond by telling them that these kids have nothing, and their wants are basic need items.”
Debbie Shelian, former Development Director for Lamb’s Fold, has worked with Rios for years and said Rios is a gift from God.
“She is always the first one to step up to the plate to meet the needs of the residents. When we needed anything, I would call her, she would put out the information to her friends and our needs would be met almost immediately,” Shelian said.
Rios said she gets her drive from her mom because, she, too, liked to help those less fortunate in their community.
“I can remember my mom going into McDonald’s and buying meals and passing food out to the homeless on Christmas,” she said. “Doing what we do makes me feel like a part of her is there with us at Christmas.”