There are over 25,000 homeless and 3,350 foster kids who are fighting for survival in Illinois alone. Annie McAveeney founded Fill a Heart 4 Kids to ensure these children have the resources they need to have a great future. By providing educational support, daily necessities, and positive life experiences, Annie has helped thousands of kids in Illinois find a way out of their challenging childhood situations.
Your organization has such an inspiring story. Can you tell us about how you started?
14 years ago, my family took in a little boy that needed a safe home to live in, and that’s when we learned how many kids needed homes in Illinois. Many of them lived in what used to be called orphanages. We formed Fill a Heart 4 Kids to provide necessities, education opportunities and personal experiences for these children to feel loved and remembered all year long, but especially during holidays. We saw the lasting effect it had on them, and provided them dignity and a chance at a brighter future! We work with children living in foster institutions, unaccompanied homeless youth and those living in extreme poverty. We serve over 1,300 kids, by providing food, critical necessities, and care packages that they otherwise would not have access to. There is a lot of need out there, especially now.
How has COVID affected the need for your services?
The need has greatly increased. We previously had 1,350 kids in our program, but because of COVID, we’re now serving close to 2,000. Many of these children are experiencing even more financial strain than before. During these times, our services are considered essential, we have not stopped delivering and providing to the youth in our program. We’ve continued to provide resources every week to children, while adhering to all Covid guidelines to ensure our volunteers are safe. At the beginning of the pandemic when PPE was short, we were able to provide masks and cleaning supplies for group homes.
What kinds of services do you provide for the homeless or foster youth?
We provide educational tools, necessities, and care packages, as well as positive experiences to the children we support year round. We help them through all the holidays and let them know they are loved and cared for. As a recent example, for the holiday season we just wrapped up Project Elf to help our youth get through the holidays. Project Elf was created to bring happiness to our community while helping children. We asked people to take part in the #ElfChallenge by filling stockings for kids. Our youth asked for food, food gift cards, toiletries, blankets, and other basic survival supplies. Additionally, we had a program where individuals or families could pay for a meal for a homeless or foster child. We were so impressed with the community support and volunteer sign ups— none of our work would be possible without their help. All our services are tailored to give kids the best life they can have, whether it’s through educational services, providing them with the things they need to get through a day, or giving them the opportunity to escape their lives through fun, positive activities.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The kids we serve are victims of extreme poverty, and it means a great deal that I am able to help them in any way. We are committed to helping children who have suffered a great deal in their short lives. Everything we do is so that they can have a brighter future. It helps them heal when they know others care and gives them hope for the future. Once you understand their situation, it’s impossible not to want to help. I’m so lucky that I’m able to help them with the support of our donors.