For three weeks per year, Katie Sweeney gets to put aside her duties as Glencoe's dog catcher and play Santa Claus.
Sweeney is in her 21st year as the organizer behind a holiday toy and food drive that collects and distributes food and toys to needy families, children and seniors in the near-north suburbs.
On the first day of this year's drive — the day before Thanksgiving — Sweeney and several Glencoe girls were outside The Grand Food Center, passing out yellow leaflets and beckoning shoppers to donate goods.
Donations are also accepted at Village Hall up until Dec. 21, when village employees plan to distribute the goods to needy recipients identified by New Trier Township, Northfield Township, North Shore Senior Center and Glencoe Family Services, Sweeney said.
Last year, 74 families received food just in time for Christmas, and more than 100 children received toys through the program, she added. There were enough leftover toys to give some to Toys for Tots and other outlets.
As shoppers passed by Sweeney and the girls — whose Friends for Others group is similar to the Girls Scouts — some opted to donate cash. When the money stuffed into the collection tube accumulated, the girls were sent inside the store to shop, teaching them to be thrifty and thoughtful with their spending.
"They have to make the $25 they're given really stretch," Sweeney said.
Once in the store with their cash and a shopping basket, Emily Christman, 12, and Alex Arenson, 11, set out for the cereal aisle.
"Everyone likes Honey Nut Cheerios," Christman said.
Arenson opted for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as well as cans of green beans and corn, applesauce and a bag of Goldfish crackers.
"Seeing how people give back to the community is really nice," said Arenson, who volunteered with the food drive last year, as well.
Sweeney said need has risen in the last few years, but so has the amount of volunteers.
"We're a small community, and it's turned into a service project for the entire village," she said.
Volunteers also help wrap the gifts and make holiday cards and decorations.
For now, the bounty of non-perishable food is kept in a conference room at the village's Public Safety Department, where Sweeney's official title is animal control officer.
Soon, though, she said it will be moved to a caddy shack at a local golf course.
"Once it's ready," Sweeney said, squinting into the afternoon sun on a crisp 53-degree fall day and flashing a grin. "They're still playing golf."
To donate, toys or non-perishable food can be dropped off at Village Hall, 675 Village Court, or call Sweeney at 847-835-4112 extension 1148 to schedule a pick-up.