For most people, the days leading up to Christmas are spent in a hurried frenzy — bouncing from store to store, stressing over last-minute home cleaning and meal prep, or dealing with the frustrations that inevitably come with travel during the holiday season.
But for Brookfield residents Josh and Michelle Jones, the final countdown to Christmas means it should be spent coming together with neighbors to spread love and charity to those around us who need it most.
Since 2009, the Joneses have spearheaded The JM Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of providing assistance to low-income families in the area who are facing trying times and are in need of a helping hand, especially during Christmas.
Michelle Jones said the motivation behind starting the initiative stemmed from growing up in the community — she in North Riverside and her husband in Riverside — and knowing that so many have a yearning to help their neighbors.
“For us to come from a community where there are so many people who love to give back inspires us,” she said. “We hope we do inspire these families to give back, if and when they can.”
Josh Jones said he heard about families who had fallen on hard times and was looking for a way to show them that together, neighbors can make a difference.
“It was the idea that there are so many families that kind of fall in between — families that get a lot of help from different services and families where the median income is just above where to get a lot of help, and they’re really having a hard time,” he said about the motivation behind starting the charity.
In its first year, The JM Foundation reached out to Brookfield schools, asking if they could identify children and families who could use help with food or home goods. When they received the names of three families, the Joneses recruited the help of close family and friends to raise money and donate food for the families.
Now, a decade later, their enterprise has grown.
On Dec. 22, about 70 volunteers showed up at Brookfield’s Twilight Party Rentals, 9100 Plainfield Road (owned by Josh Jones’ brother, Jerry), to pack goods for 12 local families — everything from canned goods, fruits and milk to toothpaste, laundry detergent and bath towels. From there, 10 volunteers headed out to the families’ homes to personally make deliveries.
In recent years, Josh and Michelle Jones are given the names of families in need from schools in the near west suburbs, who pre-screen families and provide their recommendations on what they need.
This year, one of their annual partners, La Grange nonprofit Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), which provides academic and athletic programs to at-risk boys and girls in the area, helped The JM Foundation identify families in need through Freedom Middle School in Berwyn and Joseph Academy in Melrose Park.
Through an annual summer bingo event in Berwyn and online donations throughout the year, The JM Foundation is able to raise funding to select between eight and 12 families every year to help out. This year, The JM Foundation was able to provide support to 12 families.
“We like to buy in bulk and make a huge impact on a family that will last them up to six months, as opposed to a few weeks,” Michelle Jones said.
Throughout the year, The JM Foundation posts heavily on its Facebook and Instagram pages, encouraging friends and neighbors to get behind the cause and give in any way they can, monetarily or with their time.
Sarah Lorenzi, president of CAAEL who has been involved with The JM Foundation since the beginning, says volunteering with the project each year is a “mind-blowing” experience.
“Last year, I went along on some of the deliveries, and it was just heartwarming to see the families receive all these things, especially at the holidays, to have one less thing they have to worry about,” she said.
Overall, 10 years after starting the project, the Joneses are proud of where The JM Foundation is today.
“In year one, we did all of our deliveries in a minivan,” Michelle Jones said. “[Josh] and I just went to Sam’s Club with a cart and piled the goods all in. Now, we have all of these volunteers and need two box trucks.”
For more information about how to volunteer with The JM Foundation, visit their website, thejmfoundation.org.