By Andrea Smith
The sun shone as brightly as the smiling looks of wondrous excitement on the faces of more than 500 hundred children and their families assembled at Chicago’s South Side Olive Harvey College on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. This was the 21st Annual Christmas in the Wards (CITW) holiday gift/toy giveaway extravaganza.
Joyful expressions had also covered the faces of another 500 families the previous Saturday, Dec. 10 when the Christmas in the Wards (CITW) West Side event was held at Malcolm X College.
Over 2,000 popular brand name toys — including numerous bicycles, scooters, PS2 Play Stations, Barbie Dolls of all types, toy cars and trucks, Easy Bake ovens and more were distributed during these two holiday-themed festivities, conceived by CITW’s founder and respected Chicago businessman, Larry Huggins, owner of Riteway-Huggins Construction, Inc.
In addition to the huge mountain of gaily-wrapped donated toys at both locations, Christmas in the Wards (CITW) also provided other phenomenal holiday gifts, specifically new laptop computers, big-screen TVs and warm coats, socks, hats and scarves to grateful local families.
Christmas In the Wards (CITW) was started over two decades ago as ‘Christmas in Englewood’ by Larry Huggins to spread holiday joy and happiness with those less fortunate. Everyday items many of us take for granted, are often unattainable by low-income families and children in Chicago. Huggins realized many disadvantaged Englewood residents couldn’t travel to other Chicago neighborhoods where holiday giveaways were held. Hence, Christmas In the Wards (CITW) was born.
The philosophy behind the nonprofit CITW organization Huggins founded, operated in partnership with successful brother entrepreneurs Everett Rand (Midway Wholesalers) and Tim Rand (MAC-One) and a board of directors is simple:
“Most of us fortunately experience Christmas holidays as a magical time of decorated trees, lights, presents, food, family and friends to brighten the spirit of the season! Regrettably, that’s not always the case for many economically struggling families today, especially on Chicago’s West and South Side. That’s why Christmas in the Wards exists — our mission is to uplift needy local families during this season of giving,” emphasized Huggins.
Both CITW events followed a similar format: a kick-off complimentary breakfast for the CITW families sponsored by Walmart. Thanks to sponsorship by City Colleges of Chicago, Felicia Davis, president of Olive Harvey College, and interim president David S. Sanders of Malcolm X College, welcomed the attendees, followed by a program featuring local media emcees Lauren Jiggetts of WGN-TV (west side) and NBC-5’s Emma Assante (south side), Larry Huggins and Melissa Washington, VP External Affairs of ComEd and CITW title sponsor; both presented awards to key board members and sponsors: Bruce Liimatainen of AFS Properties, LLC; Brad Mathes, President of Linn-Mathes Construction, Inc.; Jerome Davis and Jason Sanders of Walmart; Chicago CUBS Chairman Tom Ricketts; Ya Fawn Smith of Comcast; Elaine Grainger of AT&T; Tim Hayes, Western Utility; Timothy LeFevour, General Manager, SMG-Soldier Field; and Darren Benton of Walgreens, while thanking the corporate and business participants of CITW.
Joining the day’s festivities were local elected officials, including several judges, staff of 1st District Congressman Bobby Rush, and 7th District Robin Kelly; and Aldermen from several south side Wards where families were selected to participate, including event co-chairs, 8th Ward Ald. Mi-chelle Harris and 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin. Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd); Sophia King (4th) Leslie Hairston (5th) Greg Mitchell (7th); Anthony Beale (9th); Raymond Lopez (15th); Toni Foulkes (16th); David Moore (17th); Derrick Curtis (18th), Willie Cochran (20th) and Howard Brookins (21st) all helped Santa distribute donated gifts to deserving families. Appreciation awards were given to several CITW board members, including WGN-TV President-Gen. Manager Paul Rennie, and Chance the Rapper’s ‘Social Works’ Foundation received a special community service award during this heart-warming Christmas event.
During the Dec. 10 West Side CITW, special holiday guest presenters included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; 7th District Congressman Danny Davis; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Vice-President Barbara McGowan; and Alder- men including Emma Mitts (37th); Walter Burnett (27th); Michael Scott (24th); Jason Ervin (28th); Chris Taliaferro (29th), among others.
Essentially, this dedicated group of business and civic leaders believe in showing kindness to the community, helping keep joy and excitement in children’s eyes when they receive a Christmas present. Everett Rand expressed his deep appreciation to everyone involved in the Christmas in the Wards (CITW). “We thank all of our sponsors and contributors who help make these events possible.”
“Christmas in the Wards (CITW) — thanks the extreme generosity of a dynamic group of businesses, corporate partners and individuals able to make happy holiday dreams a definite reality,” added Larry Huggins.
And during these 2017 Christmas in the Wards events, they once again put their beliefs into action. Over the last two decades, Christmas In the Wards (CITW) has generated more than $2 million in charitable donations and in-kind contributions to purchase bikes, educational games, computers and other toys for youngsters who otherwise would endure a bleak holiday, because their parents may be unable to afford to put anything under the tree.
“I know firsthand how the lack of resources negatively affect many people, especially during the holidays. That’s why we started this community-based initiative – – to make a positive impact in the lives of others, especially children, at Christmas,” emphasizes Huggins.
And by all accounts – – Christmas in the Wards does just that and much mo