This has not been a banner year for Amy Swanson.
In April, her husband was sent to jail. Without a steady income, Swanson and her two young children were forced to move in with family in Algonquin, no longer able to afford the rent for their Sandwich apartment.
In the fall, Swanson enrolled her kids in Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in Hills. As her children adjusted to a new school, tensions escalated at Swanson's new home. About a month ago, she and the kids moved in with relatives in Pingree Grove.
According to the state, Swanson and her family are considered homeless, part of a growing number of homeless families in the suburbs.
Swanson, who was a stay-at-home mother before her husband went away, had to look for work for the first time in four years. It hasn't been easy.
"Now I have to get out there and be a working mom again," Swanson said. "It's extremely tough."
Swanson's difficulties during the past year, though, have been offset somewhat by the kindness of strangers, who have helped the Swansons with food, household items and, most recently, a new coat for son Bryon,? a kindergartner.
Bryon received a winter jacket through a coat drive sponsored by the Algonquin Commons shopping center. The drive, held during November and the first half of December, collected almost 1,200 coats for homeless families in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300.
The mall also donated 300 $50 gift cards to District 300 to distribute to homeless families in the district.
Bryon, who had outgrown his previous coat, got a new jacket in November. Because the zipper didn't work, Lincoln Prairie found him another one, a royal blue Columbia jacket that fit him perfectly.
"He was very ecstatic," his mom said."He was very excited. He knew I didn't have a lot of money to get him a new one."
Swanson grew emotional as she thanked the staff at Lincoln Prairie.
"They've been a great help in everything, from the coat drive to helping families in general with everything," she said. "I wish I could repay them."
The coat drive was not the first successful drive held by the commons to benefit students in District 300. The outdoor shopping mall collected more than 30 musical instruments for kids in the district in April.