Families told him ‘we’re not going to have Christmas this year.’ So he held a toy giveaway for 400 on Christmas Eve.
Early Walker, founder of the anti-violence group I’m Telling Don’t Shoot, helped arrange the event in Englewood that passed out toys, coasts, masks and meals to needy families.
Santa Claus traded Prancer, Dancer, Dasher and the rest of his reindeer for a police escort Thursday as he arrived in Englewood on a flatbed tow truck carrying hundreds of freshly wrapped presents for neighborhood children.
Music and celebratory sirens blared from a Jeep Wrangler that led the motorcade and featured flashing white lights.
“This was such a lovely event and fun for the kids since they could pick out whatever gifts they wanted,” said Englewood resident Sherry Brown, who brought her seven grandkids with her. “This is a blessing and there were enough gifts for everyone.”
Santa, who arrived driving a tow truck, carried two large bags of gifts on his shoulders as he walked to take photos with a bunch of kids. New winter coats as well as boxes filled with face masks and a warm meal were given to adults.
Brown said the event offered a bit of relief since financial strains have made it difficult to buy presents.
“The kids ask you for what they want, but with this COVID, you can’t get it because we have to worry about these bills,” Brown said. “But for them to come out and see Santa and gifts is great. You can’t go wrong with that.”
Santa has arrived in Englewood pic.twitter.com/8Pb3lJsj9u— Manny Ramos (@_ManuelRamos_) December 24, 2020
The event was organized by Early Walker, the founder of the anti-violence group I’m Telling Don’t Shoot and the owner of W&W Towing, and Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th).
The presents were provided by billionaire Shahid Khan, the owner of Chicago auto part maker Flex-N-Gate. Khan, who wasn’t at the event Thursday, also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, Fulham F.C. of the Premier League and is co-owner of All Elite Wrestling.
In all, about 400 people attended and 1,200 gifts were handed out, organizers said.
“In 2020 we have all faced our challenges, not only in the city but especially in communities like Englewood,” Coleman said. “They say Santa Claus comes straight to the ghetto — well I don’t know about the ghetto — but we are here in Englewood and we are the good and making the difference in our community.”
Walker, who does philanthropy work throughout the city, said people have “flooded” his email inbox with stories of “tremendous losses.”
“So many moms and families that have told us, ‘We’re not going to have Christmas this year,’” Walker said. “So many families have lost their jobs or been laid off causing them not be able to give gifts.”
For Erica Ben, just getting her five grandkids outside was a welcome change, even in the blistering cold weather and slight flurry of snow. They waited in line to receive food and gifts after having been largely stuck inside throughout most of the pandemic.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that they are even doing this, because normally nothing goes on in this area and nobody really comes out and passes out anything to the kids,” Ben said. “So this is nice and I know my grandkids will be happy.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.