By Patrick Forrest
The Christmas holidays are typically a magical time of decorated trees, lights, presents, family and friends to brighten up the spirit of the season. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for many economically insecure, struggling families today, especially on Chicago’s West and South Sides.
That’s why a dedicated group of business and civic leaders believe it takes the kindness of the community to help keep the joy and excitement in a child’s eyes when they receive a Christmas present. Other- wise, their parents may be unable to afford anything under the tree.
“Everyone deserves to get a ‘W’ [win] during the Christmas season,” said Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs.
That’s the inspiration behind the nonprofit Christmas in the Wards organization according to Christmas in the Wards founder Larry Huggins. Huggins, who along with co-founders Everett and Tim Rand, brothers, have nurtured and expanded the charitable event significantly over the last twenty years.
“I have seen firsthand how the lack of resources affects 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 the children,” said Huggins.
Over the last 19 years, Christmas in the Wards has generated more than $2 million in charitable and in-kind contributions to purchase bikes, educational games, computers and other toys for children and families.
“We thank all of our sponsors and contributors every year who help make this event possible, primarily due to the extreme generosity of the dynamic group of businesses, corporate partners and individuals who provide support, we’re able to make happy holiday dreams a definite reality.”
And others were honored for following that thought as well. Sam Love, 13, who raises money to send gifts to those children affected by disasters around the world, was given a $1,000 donation to the Sam Love Foundation.
Also students from throughout the area are selected not only by schools and principals, but by the alderman who represents them, and attending families are given a raffle ticket for prizes at the end of the event.
“One of the hardest things in the world is being a hardworking yet financially challenged parent during Christmas time. Every parent wants to see the light of happiness shining in their children’s eyes, but what do you do when you’re not sure that you will be able to make that happen? That’s why we do this every year,” said Huggins.
One of the families affected by this night was Jeanette Eubanks and her two grandchildren, Dante Eubanks and Markesse Johnson. “My daughter passed away in 2012 so I have custody of them,” Jeanette Eubanks said pointing to the two boys beside her. “And I have not been able to do for them the way I really want to.”
Trying to explain the hardship to her grandchildren was difficult for her; but with the help of Christmas in the Wards now she won’t have to. “I was trying to find out how I could make Christmas possible by the grace of God. This really is going to be a blessing,” Jeanette explained. “Now he doesn’t have to wake up with nothing under the tree.”
Families and elected officials alike saw the importance of the event, and the opportunity to provide children, not only with presents, but the storied Christmas joy.
“This event has consequences that you can’t measure. You don’t know how many kids that you produced joy in,” said Congressman Danny K. Davis, Illinois Representative of the 7th District. The event was held in his District. “To see them coming out, getting the stuff and learning about everything, it’s just a wonderful event. It means more than you can measure, a great deal.”
Davis, a longtime fighter of poverty, noted its importance among the issues that make Christmas in The Wards, and events like it important for struggling communities.
“Today more than ever, many in the community confront unemployment, food insecurity and the threat of homelessness, and struggle to provide the basics for themselves and their families. Yet, there is much to celebrate about the tremendous warmth and goodwill spread over the last two decades by Christmas in The Wards. It takes all of us, working together, to address the challenges that far too many individuals face during this time of the year,” said Davis.