The Libertyville football Wildcats this Friday will host rival Mundelein, but fans from both sides are being asked to support more than just their favorite team.
Libertyville High School this year has joined the effort to help veterans and their families by conducting a pregame coat drive in advance of the annual Stand Down on Oct. 16, organized by the Veteran's Assistance Commission of Lake County.
"There is more of an awareness of the issue of veterans now not being able to get jobs, not being able to take care of their families," said Jon Petrillo, an Army veteran and deputy police chief in Vernon Hills who's serving as the point man for the coat collection portion of the Stand Down.
LHS students conduct a charitable drive each year. But when they learned of the local need, seniors chose the upcoming Homecoming game for the coat drive, according to Kelly Angelo, a student counselor.
While organizers prefer coat donations, but other winter gear in good condition also is welcome. Collections will be made at five games: Mundelein vs Libertyville; North Chicago vs Vernon Hills on Oct. 5; and Conant vs Fremd, Vernon Hills vs Lakes and Grayslake Central vs Grayslake North, all on Oct. 12. Collection points also have been set up at local police departments serving those areas.
"My focus is the 900 veterans I have on food stamps," said Mike Peck, superintendent of the VAC. Those in that group are considered at risk of becoming homeless, he added.
"I can provide emergency assistance one time for them but it still doesn't prevent them from losing their apartment or home," he said.
Because of transportation and other issues, only about a third of those veterans are expected for the Stand Down, a military term for refitting troops.
Held the past three years, the event includes an assessment for medical and dental needs, housing assistance and other services. About 600 coats were distributed last year and once again, the Knitting Club at The Park in Vernon Hills will be making scarves as its contribution.
Peck said there are about 5,050 unemployed veterans in Lake County, equal to a rate of about 14 percent. The number of homeless veterans fluctuates from 60 to 100 at any given time, he added.
"We're just very appreciative of the support for veterans in Lake County," he said "We have a county of have and have nots, but until the economy improves it's going to be tough."
Vernon Hills police began collecting coats for veterans about six years ago. Initially, a private donor wrote a check for about 125 coats but dropped out of the picture. Police continued the effort and public participation has become a big part.
A few years ago, the Grayslake North football team collected coats as part of its annual community project but had not committed to giving them to a specific organization until Petrillo connected with Coach Steve Wood.
The coat collection lineup has grown from two games last year to five this season. Last year, fans were encouraged to bring coats to the Grayslake North/Grayslake Central game as well as the Vernon Hills Cougars versus Grant Bulldogs.
Central's coach at the time, Nick Goshe, has since become an assistant coach at Fremd High School in Palatine, which joined the effort this year.
"We always try to make our football games more than just about football," said Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel. "We try to talk about the importance of those who fight for our freedom."