As a freshman in high school, Mory Sanberg was encouraged by her parents to make community service more than a time commitment required by school to graduate. They wanted Mory to find some way to make a difference in her world and encouraged, even nagged her a bit, to embrace community service as a privilege, not a chore. They wanted her to understand the power of an individual to make a difference through a commitment to one's community.
Mory, like many teenagers, was restless, rebellious, eager to have her freedom, and, yet, insecure about who she was and who she wanted to be. And she had a lot of compassion for kids who were "having a hard time" for one reason or another. She decided to focus her community service on helping homeless children and teenagers. She felt this was one place she might be able to make a difference. She contacted several organizations that basically ignored her because she was only 14 years old. The staff at The Night Ministry was different. Everyone embraced her enthusiasm and encouraged her to develop a program that would meet the needs of the homeless. They gave Mory the opportunity to develop a plan of her own. So, Mory volunteered with The Night Ministry, a not-for-profit organization that has responded to the needs of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or social status who live on Chicago's streets at night. Homeless and runaway youth, working poor adults, those representing many who have “fallen through the cracks” of our social service systems, have benefited from the work of The Night Ministry for over 25 years.
Mory began to make hundreds of bag dinners each week during the summer, which were distributed by The Night Ministry to homeless teenagers. The meals, which included a sandwich, fruit, chips and cookies, were assembled in Mory's kitchen with support from her parents and friends. Then Mory came up with the idea to give disadvantaged and homeless children holiday stockings filled with goodies. She realized this might be the only gift many of these children would receive during the holidays. Mory raised money, enlisted friends and family, and embarked on a mission to spread holiday cheer to teenagers and children living on the edge.
For the past few years, Mory and her friends have made holiday stockings filled with a huge variety of gifts, fun toys, and warm winter-wear. And Mory, with her parents and a few of her friends, has joined The Night Ministry each year on Christmas Eve for its annual Holy Night celebration. The Night Ministry's Health Outreach Bus visits 10 different neighborhoods of Chicago, passing out the stockings, serving hot chocolate and homemade cookies, singing carols, and wishing everyone a happy holiday. Mory declares this to be the best night of the year!
What started as an assignment from her family and school became a passion for Mory. In the past four summers, she provided over 4,000 bag dinners, and in the last three years, over 1,000 Christmas stockings and gifts to kids. In addition, she has had a wonderful time. Three years ago, the first year of the Stocking Project, Mory filled her goal of making 150 stockings on a budget of $1,500 with six of her friends helping to stuff the stockings. Three years later, by Christmas 2001, her budget had increased ten times over, the stockings had doubled in size, and she was providing more than 450 stockings and 50 holiday bags of baby gifts, as well as personal gifts, for all the kids living at The Night Ministry's youth shelter.
Mory's group of volunteers has grown from her six friends to more than one hundred kids at her high school, Francis W. Parker, where this past December, her senior classmates, trained by her original six volunteers, supervised the entire 9th grade class in stuffing the stockings. In addition to doing all the planning, organizing, selection of gifts, ordering and working with suppliers, Mory has raised all the money from a number of foundation grants and over one hundred individuals. She has received generous donations from corporations that filled the stockings with candy, warm mittens, and wonderful toys - bandanas, beanie babies, bubbles, hackey sacks, beach balls, coloring books, crayons, pens and pencils, yo-yos, kazoos, puzzles, card games and more.
Mory and her friends have become "bag dinner" experts. While the first year she worked pretty much alone, four years later, at least ten of her friends show up at her house every Monday night during the summer bringing other kids. When the sandwiches are made and the bags are filled, they grill hamburgers and hang out in Mory's backyard. "Bag Dinner" night is always a great party. As they wrapped up their fourth year this August, it was a sad night for all. This is a project they hate to leave as they head off to college. Mory's goal is to find students who will help continue these traditions.
In June of 2002, Mory was awarded the Lamplighter Award from The Night Ministry for her work.