Jeffrey Collins, fidgeting as only a 3-year-old can three days before Christmas, was crying, twisting and turning in line as he and his mother, JoAnn Gilchrist, waited to take a picture with Santa Claus.
They were part of the crowd at the World Mission Society Church’s Annual Toys for Needy Kids Give Away Rally at McKinley Tech High School Dec. 22. With only three days until Christmas, more than 400 people showed up at the event which also featured performances from musicians, singers and dancers.
But Santa Claus was man of the hour for Jeffrey and scores of other children. Once he took his throne near the back of the gym, the little ones scurried to line up, excited to get to the front.
Once Jeffrey reached the front of the line, he immediately stopped crying and wrapped himself around Santa, giving him the biggest, warmest and longest hug he could muster.
“It’s a commitment to service,” said Alvin Greene, an event volunteer from World Missions Church and a pre-K teacher at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. “With the economy the way it is, a lot of people lost jobs. It’s good to be able to give gifts to people that might not be able to go out and buy them.”
The event was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. but many parents started lining up much earlier in order to secure a spot. Once inside they registered with volunteers and then waited for gifts to be distributed that afternoon.
Volunteers from World Missions Church of Christ Extension Center, the Army Junior ROTC, St. Alban’s School and other groups were in a back hallway frantically wrapping gifts and organizing them by gender and age groups. The hallway was flooded with gifts of all types and sizes from toy cars and planes to doll babies and bikes.
Around noon, they started calling numbers for families to line up for their toys.
“Numbers 1 through 25, line up in front of the elf,” the announcer said.
Carlita Green, a 29-year-old mother of three, was there for the first time and got there at 5 a.m. She was number 83.
“I got my mother-in-law and nephews and a girlfriend and her kids with me. Everybody came together and everybody’s ready,” she said.
While some parents were attending for the first time, many had participated in past years.
Angela Tucker-Barnes, a bus driver and mother of eight, was attending for the second time and showed up at 8 a.m.
“It’s a long process before the kids get the toys but they give out excellent gifts,” Tucker-Barnes said as she sat with friends and big bags full of toys.
Courtney Thompson, a northeast D.C. resident and father of three, got there around 9 a.m. and was number 298. He was attending for the second time and patiently waited for his turn in line.
He gratefully shared that “as long as they do this, I’ll be here every year.”
Tiara Howard, mother of 7-year-old Jerimiah and 1 week old Jamari, registered late but was still able to get about five gifts. She had loaded her bag of toys onto her newborn’s stroller.
When her son Jeremiah was asked if he was excited about receiving the gifts, he responded, “Yes.”