Annual Christmas event brings holiday spirit to South Side

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Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th, gives laptops to Teniyah Hall (center) and Trevon Porter, two students at South Shore International College Preparatory High School. The laptop donations were part of Christmas in the Wards Saturday at Olive-Harvey College. | Rachel Hinton/ Sun-Times

On school nights, Teniyah Hall usually has to stay late at South Shore International College Preparatory High School not because of any after-school programs, but because it’s the only place for her to use a computer to finish her homework.

Thanks to this year’s “Christmas in the Wards” event, that changes. Hall, 18, was one of about 25 people to receive a laptop from their aldermen as part of the annual day of giving back.

“This means I can do my work at home now instead of staying late at the library,” Hall said. “This gives people a chance to get gifts that they may not have been able to get otherwise and gives a lot of hope to the kids in the community, too.”

Celebrating its 21st anniversary, “Christmas in the Wards” handed out laptops, hats, coats and various toys to beaming children Saturday at Olive-Harvey College. Around 600 children from 300 families packed the gym of the Southeast Side community college, event creator Larry Huggins said.

The event started as Christmas in Englewood, but broadened its scope in 2011, Huggins said.

“We talked to aldermen and told them to go to the principals in their communities and identify the families most in need,” Huggins said. “From there, the aldermen and their staff then shop for the families.”

Huggins said the aldermen and other sponsors are given a budget of $2,500, and many — or their staffs and volunteers — wrapped their gifts for the families in their ward in the days leading up to Saturday’s event.

In all, families from 13 wards were represented. Many aldermen— including Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who gave the laptop to Hall on behalf of gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) — as well as Cubs owner Tom Ricketts were on hand Saturday to hand out their gifts.

Chance the Rapper’s organization SocialWorks also donated coats and roughly $10,000 worth of toys — about half will go to families recovering from hurricanes in Texas and in Puerto Rico, Huggins said.

For Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the event was all about the “spirit of giving.”

“It’s about giving back to people who need a hand during the holiday season,” Beale said. “This lets people know everyone goes through hard times. Hopefully, we can give hope to people who may have lost hope.”

Though all agreed it was for a good cause, some said the day seemed to be mostly about “good optics” for politicians and corporations.

“It’s nice that people want to give back and show compassion, but I still think it’s mostly about politics,” Zoe Thompson, 18, said. “You should be giving out of the goodness of your heart, not for the media to see.”

Huggins denied that the day was about politics, saying “this is about embracing our public schools and getting corporations to fund it. With so much bad stuff happening in our communities, we need to shed light on the good stuff, too.”

Bringing good to the community isn’t bound to just the South Side. At their Christmas in the Wards on the West Side, held last week, about 400 children from 200 families were in attendance. Huggins said the goal is to eventually expand the event to all 50 wards and host one big “Christmas in the Wards” event at the United Center.

“This all started 21 years ago with 50 families and around 150 kids. Now we’re trying to make sure no wards are left out,” Huggins said. “We just want it to continue to grow and to continue to provide something unique and different that’s of value to the community.”

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