As we enter this holiday season, there is so much for which we can be grateful. First of all, we live in a state with an abundance of potential and existing greatness. The farmers who put food on Illinois’ and the nation’s table deserve our highest gratitude. If you had a traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, you may have enjoyed one of the three million turkeys produced by Illinois farmers each year. Additionally, from the butter to the cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, whipped cream, and milk, you may also have enjoyed products produced by one or more of Illinois’ thousands of dairy farmers.
Our state is also one of the nation’s largest producers of wheat, so if bread, biscuits or cakes were on your Thanksgiving menu, it’s likely you supported the livelihoods of Illinois wheat producers. The vegetables that rounded out your menu might have also come from ingredients grown in this state, and since about 90 percent of the canned pumpkin sold in the United States comes from Illinois pumpkins, chances are your pumpkin pie was made from Illinois-grown pumpkins. The Land of Lincoln is also home to top-tier industry leaders and is a national and global hub of commerce with around 40 Fortune 500 companies. Tourism is an undeniable economic engine for the state, and the state as a whole has the 5th largest economy in the United States.
Locally, we also have much to appreciate and celebrate. This fall several of our Northwest Illinois high school football teams qualified for the IHSA playoffs, and many advanced far in their divisions. While several teams are worthy of honorable mentions, two high school football teams deserve extra kudos for advancing to the state finals. The Lena High School Panthers performed admirably in the Class 1A championship game, and the Byron High School Tigers’ season culminated with a 69-7 win in the finals to become the 2023 Class 3A State Champions. In the state playoffs for girls’ volleyball, the Galena Pirates beat the Hartsburg-Edmen Stags 25-23 and 25-16 to become the Class 1A State Champions. The players and coaches of all of these teams show a level of dedication and grit that is admirable.
While out and about in these last few weeks of 2023, you will probably see volunteers from your community ringing bells for this year’s Salvation Army Red Kettle drive. These individuals help bring the priceless gift of help and hope to thousands of families that turn to the Salvation Army for assistance. This project goes straight to the heart of “neighbors helping neighbors,” because every penny, nickel, dime, and quarter that is deposited into a red kettle remains local. If you’ve ever wondered how you could give back to your community during the holidays, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle drive is a great option to consider.
This time of year you may also come across Toys for Tots bins that are strategically placed all around Illinois including the 45th District. Every child, regardless of their family’s financial situation, deserves a gift at Christmastime, and this year, the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign will accept unwrapped toys and other gifts for children of all ages through Friday, December 8. This group has been delivering smiles to children since 1947. Once all toys are collected from drop-off locations, coordinators, with the help of local social welfare agencies, church groups, and other community agencies, distribute toys to less fortunate children.
Lastly, if your holiday travels take you near Freeport, I would encourage you to stop by and visit the “Hero Tree,” which will stand tall in front of the Stephenson County Courthouse through the end of the year. This tree pays tribute to our local military heroes and is filled with homemade ornaments made by children and adults throughout the region. Every evening the Hero Tree will be illuminated, signifying the area’s gratitude and appreciation for those who selflessly answered a call to service and have sacrificed a great deal to protect the freedoms we hold dear.
Throughout this season of hope and joy, we don’t have to look far for reasons to feel grateful. I wish you all a blessed holiday season!