Christmas comes to Sullivan Apartments
The Community Room at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments turned into a virtual Santa’s Workshop on an afternoon just before the holiday, with children from 22 families happily and noisily choosing from piles of toys and clothes.
And all thanks to the annual visit by Amy Kimball, her family and a whirlwind of volunteers who work all year to make the holiday bright for those who can afford few of the extras.
The extravaganza opened with children eating pizza and decorating ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ cookies, and then heading over one table at a time to the northern corner, where stacks of games, dolls, toys, and clothes, sorted by size, awaited them.
It was a joyful kind of bedlam, the stuff that never fails to bring a smile, and even a few happy tears, to the grown-ups in the audience.
“This is very helpful, so many things for the children,” said mother Sarah Smith, who had her daughter Sasha Jones, 7, in tow.
“So many gifts,” she said, looking around in awe. “I didn’t expect this much.”
This is the 18th year Kimball and her crew – including husband David, adult children Jacob and Carly, and a host of volunteers – have amassed contributions to hand out to families with little to spend on the extras.
This year, Sullivan was the sole beneficiary of Kimball’s efforts, which she spends months working on, leading up to the holiday season.
Kimball said she began the tradition in 1999, and while it’s changed over the years, it’s still the kind of Adopt-A-Family project that brings deep rewards for the givers as well as the receivers.
“Basically, we just want to help children have a better holiday, and hopefully, a better year going forward,” said Kimball, an educator who works with children professionally. “It’s all thanks to the generosity of family and friends.”
Indeed, her daughter Carly took the day off as a nurse at Baystate Medical Center, as did Carly’s best friend Adrian Giguere, a teacher at Chicopee Academy Middle School – because watching the children choose gifts is the best part, of course.
“We absolutely wouldn’t miss this,” said Kimball. “I love this. It’s a way to get our own family together, and plus that, give back to community. Adrian and I been doing this from the beginning.”
Giguere added, “I was in the eighth grade then. Now I’m teaching the eighth grade.”
The lucky children were from the Sullivan after-school program, plus a few additions from the family development in the Liberty Heights section of the city.
After-school at Sullivan includes an infusion of Talk/Read/Succeed!, a family-based early literacy program at three SHA developments. The others are Duggan Park and Robinson Gardens Apartments.
At Sullivan, Zenaida Burgos serves as outreach coordinator, working with families and the nearby Boland Elementary School to infuse literacy into as many aspects of life as possible. The Christmas part and gift extravaganza was a way to instill a community spirit, with a large dose of joy.
“This is a time for children to really enjoy the holiday spirit,” Burgos said. “Being able to connect with Amy and her team of volunteers is what makes all this happen, and we appreciate that. Her dedication, her love and her energy make the holiday so much fun for our families.”
Burgos added, “I’m so proud to be a part of this.”
On hand for the fun was SHA Resident Services Director Pamela Wells, who also expressed gratitude to Kimball and her crew.
“It’s easy to see how much fun this is for everyone involved,” said Wells. “We love working with Amy. It’s a pleasure.”
After the gifts were taken, children lined up to sing ‘Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer’ and ‘Feliz Navidad,’ with parents taking out their cell phone cameras, and smiling to the music.
Yanira Rivera brought her seven-year-old son Zadrian Navarro, and marveled at the toys, clothing and general happy buzz.
“This is amazing,” Rivera said. “It’s really bringing the families together, and the children are so happy.”
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