After he was almost arrested for being in the Washington, Ill., tornado zone, Lee Newtson of Sycamore connected with two families in need.
The EF-4 tornado that on Nov. 17 devastated the central Illinois community of about 16,000 leveled more than 1,000 homes, leaving families homeless.
"On my first trip, security was tight and residents were not allowed back in the area for four days," Newtson said. "I worked around the perimeter and almost got arrested for being there after curfew."
He returned a second time with his car loaded. "You couldn't get a handkerchief in my trunk," he said.
"These people are not deadbeats or losers," Newtson said. "They are working, but sometimes bad things happen to good people."
The Camdens and the Lutschgs lost everything, and had no insurance to help them recover.
Newtson said Robert and Tiffany Camden have two sons; Matthew is 9 and James is 7. And Tiffany is about 5 months pregnant with their third child. They are staying in a home in East Peoria rent-free for three months to help them recover.
Jessica Lutschg is a single parent with one daughter, Kylie, 5. Newtson said they are staying with friends or relatives in Washington.
"When you leave your shelter and your home has been destroyed, all you have is what you're wearing," Newtson said. "They need the stuff we take for granted from the grocery store, the drug store."
"We have Christmas trees and decorations, and they don't even have a home," he said.
Creating Christmas for those families was the mission undertaken by Hinckley First United Methodist Church, in partnership with Evangelical United Methodist Church in Washington.
Hinckley church member Peggy Smoltich said former Hinckley resident Justin Morrow and his wife, Laura, facilitated the connection between the churches.
Church members and friends in Hinckley and Big Rock purchased new toys and clothing that were delivered to Washington on Wednesday. Their gifts were added to those collected by the Washington church, allowing families to choose as many gifts as their felt they needed to create Christmas for their children during this stressful time.
Smoltich said a second group, consisting of Hinckley church pastor Laura Crites, Dawn Morrow and Mary Pritchard, traveled to Washington to help with the distribution. They said parents were astounded by the generosity of people they did not know.
"The ladies said it was very touching. People kept saying they were taking too much, but they could take as much as they wanted to help their children through this difficult time," Smoltich said.