Deputy sheriff continues holiday drive despite setback
Cook County Deputy Sheriff Michael Wronkowski has collected food for 17 straight years for local soup kitchens during his food drive at the Cook County Courthouse in Skokie. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
COURTHOUSE TURKEY DRIVE
When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 5
Where: Overhead garage first floor, Cook County Courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road, Skokie.
What: Collection of turkeys, canned goods, toys etc.
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:15AM
Deputy Sheriff Michael Wronkowski’s streak seemed like it was coming to an end this year.
After 17 straight years of holding a collection drive for those less fortunate — a drive that many of his colleagues at the Skokie courthouse look forward to every year — Wronkowski, at least momentarily, thought he would have to bow out. In July, he suffered a severe woodworking accident in his home, sawing off parts of two of his fingers. They were surgically reattached, but he hasn’t been back to work yet.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to do it,” he said. “I’m still in therapy, I’m still not back to work so I knew it was going to be really difficult.”
Wronkowski also knew how badly the need exists. Since the economy plummeted a few years ago, donated food and other items have been as critical as ever, he said.
What allows him to carry on the food and toy drive for an 18th straight year is added help from colleagues and family. He is holding the drive a little early this year – Dec. 5 — because a retiring supervisor at the courthouse is able to help out that way, Wronkowski’s brother is also taking off work and his wife will be on hand as well.
“That will help,” he said. “I’m not sure I could have done this any other way.”
Like he has for so many years, the deputy sheriff will set up his van from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 5 in the overhead parking lot of the Cook County Courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road. Donors are not able to miss him since his vehicle is on the first floor with colorful holiday lights calling out for generous people to give whatever they can to help.
“I couldn’t stay away,” Wronkowski said. “I really wanted to do it because people count on this.”
One of those people is Sister Ann Schaffer, who has run a soup kitchen for more than 25 years at St. Stanislaus Kostka in Chicago. She distributes Wronkowski’s donated goods and has said that the need has never been greater than recently.
“He’s just a wonderful and caring man,” Schaffer said. “We’re blessed.”
The deputy sheriff’s annual donation day first emerged at a restaurant in Elgin that used to give away 50 tickets for a free holiday dinner. About 150 people showed up the first year, 500 people the second year.
When the restaurant owner could not accommodate that many people in need, she asked friends and family to collect food.
That’s what prompted Wronkowski to post his first flyer in the courthouse years ago. He thought it was going to be a one-time-only contribution, but realized that after Jalapeno’s Restaurant in Elgin permanently closed nine or so years ago, the need did not go away.
Wronkowski and his wife make up Christmas baskets from the donations every year. In addition to St. Stanislaus Kostka, they bring the donated goods to St. Vincent De Paul and Daughters of St. Mary Providence. All of the food is delivered by Wronkowski and his wife the night of the drive.
Colleagues question Wronkowski about when he will be holding the annual drive. This year, he wasn’t there to answer those questions and many figured the drive was over.
Perhaps they should have known better with Wronkowski. He wants to hold at least 20 of them before saying goodbye.
“The goal has always been the same. We just want to make the holidays a little better for people,” he said.