Hope, holiday cheer at West Side toy giveaway: ‘We believe in our young’

“This is our way of us saying to the West Side, ‘West Side alive. West Side, we believe in you,’“ Pastor Michael Eaddy said.

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Volunteers helped distribute toys at The People’s Church of Harvest in the East Garfield Park neighborhood Saturday morning.

Volunteers helped distribute toys at The People’s Church of Harvest in the East Garfield Park neighborhood Saturday morning.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Christmas came early for some 500 families on the West Side Saturday as People’s Church of Harvest hosted its annual toy and bike giveaway.

Children bundled in winter coats and scarves walked away from the Fifth City neighborhood church pushing new bikes, while adults packed plastic bags filled with toys and holiday goodies into their cars.

Cheryl Bolden stood in line with her 7-year-old grandson, Kenneth Johnson, who was eager to get his hands on a new bike. Bolden said community events like this gift giveaway are especially important this year with the coronavirus pandemic adding an additional economic and emotional strain on some families.

“Sometimes people don’t have anything. A lot of [people] have depression and this will probably cheer a person up,” she said. “And so thank God for the blessing. A lot of people don’t have money”[to buy gifts.

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Cheryl Bolden and her grandson Kenneth Johnson, 7, look at the gifts they received outside People’s Church of Harvest.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pastor Michael Eaddy said his church hosts the holiday giveaway each year to help those in need and give hope to a community devastated by gun violence.

“This is our way of us saying to the West Side, ‘West Side alive. West Side, we believe in you. We believe in our young [people]. We believe in their future,’” Eaddy said. “We want them to know that we are here with them.”

Among those receiving shiny new silver-and-blue bikes were Lorenzo Matthews and Michael Smith, who were wounded earlier this year during a barbershop shooting in East Garfield Park.

The boys’ mother, Cierra Mobley, said she was grateful for the church’s generosity and the support she’s received from the community since the attack.

“It means a lot,” she said. “I’m still appreciative that a year [has] almost gone by and people still have us in their hearts.”

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Lorenzo Matthews walks with his new bike he received outside People’s Church of Harvest Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Matthews, 11, and Smith, 12, were getting their hair cut at Gotcha Faded barbershop on Jan. 16 when two gunmen opened fire, wounding a total of five people, including three boys.

Chicago police Deputy Chief Ernest Cato recounted the shooting, adding that barbershops were a “sacred place” when he was growing up on the West Side. He decried the gun violence that has plagued the city.

“We have children with bullet holes in them,” Cato said. “We, as a community, have to wrap around this together. It’s going to be a partnership between the police department and our community, so it’s one team. It’s not community, it’s not police, it’s one team organized to take care of the folks in this great city of ours.”

Mobley said her two sons are “great now,” but the pain stemming from the shooting is still very real for her.

“I have to be strong for my boys,” Mobley said. “It’ll be a year in January and I still have dreams about it. I’m just so happy and thank God that my kids are still here with me.”

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