MAHOMET — Jackie Butler and Heather Denam had no idea they would be the difference makers in so many peoples' lives, but ever since they opened It Takes a Village, a not-for-profit organization offering free clothing and household items to central Illinois families in need, they've done just that.
The mother-daughter duo of White Heath said it all began in 2012, when daughter Heather Denam needed a little assistance during Christmastime.
"She was struggling," Mom Jackie Butler said. "The place she went to, she was really disappointed with what she got."
And just like that, it clicked for Denam.
"She thought she could do better," Butler said.
The two took to garage sales, buying items and asking sellers to donate their leftovers for the cause.
"It just built from there," Butler said.
Then living in Mahomet, the two decided to deliver the donated items to those in need, but that soon became "overwhelming."
They set up shop at the Rusk Storage on Lake of the Woods Road, converting three climate-controlled units into giveaway centers, providing children, birth to 16, free clothing and families cleaning and hygiene products.
That is until recently, when the organization tossed around the idea of moving to Main Street's Sangamon on Main, a former elementary school converted into office space.
"Before, when we had a giveaway, we had one unit that was girls' clothes, one that was boys' and then we had our cleaning and hygiene unit," Butler explained. "In the hallway of those units, we would set up our check-in, check-out table, we'd pull out our rolling racks with our winter coats and stuff on it."
But come Feb. 21, It Takes a Village will streamline the process at its new digs — 601 Main Street, Suite 107.
"We'll be able to unlock the door, come in and be ready for our giveaways," Butler said.
Well, that and a breakroom, internet and, oh yeah, bathrooms.
"This is heaven for us," Butler said while laughing and making light of the group's frequent trips to McDonald's.
A collaborative working environment on top of their new space is the icing on the cake.
"Our neighbor (Mary Pettenger), from Winderson's (Creations) is fantastic, and Darwyn (Boston) from State Farm, he's amazing," Butler said. "It's just like one big family."
Friendly neighborhood aside, Butler and Denam are excited to get in their new space and get back to doing what they love — helping others in a pinch.
"We've had really, really good people down on their luck that have come to us," Butler said.
Recently, the pair, along with the assistance of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, helped a young, single father and his 5-year-old daughter make the transition into a Mahomet apartment.
"He had nothing," Butler said. "We got him all set up."
When Butler and Denam, who also serves as the manager of Monticello's Willow Tree Missions, learned the father was unable to provide Christmas for his little one, the two got stepped right into action.
"I just cried and cried because he couldn't do anything," Butler said. "He told her (his daughter), 'We can either have Christmas, or we can save money to get a place to live,' and she said, 'I'd rather have my own bed.'
"This was after Christmas when he contacted us," Butler explained, "so I personally went out and bought Christmas for her. I told him (the dad), 'Tell her since you've moved, Santa Claus couldn't find her and that he dropped her things off to me and that I was supposed to get them to her.'"
But the young father and daughter are just one of the many It Takes a Village assists. Each year, the organization partners with Mahomet Christian Church to collect toys for its Christmas giveaway. This holiday season, 135 youngsters, who "would have had nothing," had new toys to nestle under the tree.
"Everybody is so grateful," Butler said while smiling. "It makes us feel wonderful that we're able to do it."
Early on, the two heard of a family whose children were sleeping on the floor, so Butler sent her son-in-law, Jeremy Denam, to their house with a truckload of food, furniture, bed linens and clothes for the little ones.
"This big, burly guy opens the door, 'What do you want?'" Butler chuckled. "He (Jeremy) said, 'I'm from It Takes a Village, and I have some things for you.'"
"When they started loading it, this guy cried," Butler added.
Each giveaway proves beneficial to families in central Illinois, and the need for assistance is great.
"With the people that come, they can't afford to go buy their kids clothes, some of them can't even afford to go to the garage sales," she said. "When you're on minimum wage, even with two parents working full-time minimum wage, and when you have to pay rent, the majority of their money goes for their rent, there isn't money to buy clothes, to get their Christmas.
"What we provide ... now (that) they don't have to buy cleaning and hygiene (products), that's money I can pay toward my water bill, that money can go toward rent," Butler added. "I don't have to worry about OK I'm not paying rent this Christmas because I want to give something to my kids."
Their greatest need?
"We always need financial donations, we need volunteers," Butler said. "That's a big struggle."
But now, with a new location in Mahomet, the duo, along with their eight-member board, hope to have even more giveaways. To celebrate, It Takes a Village welcomes the community to its open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday and asks that attendees bring cleaning and hygiene products.
"It's people helping people," Butler said. "We came up with It Takes a Village because it takes a community to raise a community and support a community."