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Ville Christmas gift giveaway fills neighborhood needs

THE VILLE – Some may have worried when COVID 19 changed the annual Christmas in The Ville Christmas party and food and gift giveaway to a drive-through event.

But when the event started at 11 a.m. Saturday at the CareSTL Health location at 2425 Whittier Street, it was clear that those who worried were wrong. About noon, cars backed up for three blocks around the Homer G. Phillips Senior Apartments, north on Whittier, west on Kennerly Avenue and south by Annie Malone Children and Family Services.

Toward the end of the line, Ronald Rucker sat in his car, unhappy at the wait.

“It’s ridiculous,” Rucker said. “I didn’t expect this.”

Then he said he wondered whether he had enough gas to get to the distribution point.

Those who did were rewarded with gifts and food they might not have gotten otherwise in the Christmas of COVID-19.

Since the event started about four or five years ago, it has served about 125 families and about 260 children a year, said Bob Marshak, its co-chair. “Today, we’re probably looking at about 160 families and about 300 children.”

The day after Christmas in The Ville, Marshak was pleased with the turnout.

“We exceeded those initial figures for both kids and for families,” Marshak said.

Items given out included toys and other gifts for children up to age 16.

“We gave out a lot of food staples,” Marshak said.

The North Sarah Food Hub contributed 300 chicken pasta dishes.

The event was sponsored by the Ville Collaborative, which includes numerous organizations, Marshak said. Marshak, who is with the racial and equity organization Social Justice for All, said Christmas in The Ville used to include worship, a social activities, games for children, the giveaways and a hot lunch.

“In previous years, we had a hot lunch, which included entrees and sides and desserts. We couldn’t do that this year,” Marshak said.

Those who came to a walk-up line spoke of how difficult times are for them, especially because of COVID-19.

“It’s been a little rough as far as jobs-wise,” said Crystal Taylor, who was in line with her 7-year-old daughter, Aliah Brown. Aliah opined that she would like to have another Barbie doll. Taylor was furloughed from the production line of the warehouse of U.S. Foods in March.

Without the giveaway, Taylor said, she would have very little Christmas. “Whoever donated, I think it’s nice.”

Diane Minor came with her daughter and her great-granddaughter.

“They had told me at the clinic that they all were having a giveaway,” said Minor, who worked as a certified nurse assistant until August. Even though she lost her job, Minor said, “I’m making it.”

Helping out at the giveaway was 4th Ward Alderwoman Dwinderlin Evans.

“No matter how bad your situation is, I just thank God for what he’s done because there’s somebody in a badder shape,” Evans said.

There are many needs for resources, Evans said, especially because of the restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

This year, “The needs are very great. There’s no question about it,” Marshak said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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