It was a traditional, joyous Christmas at the Kennedy home in a suburban Boston community. The table was set with traditional holiday fare and the fragrance of fresh baked cookies and cakes dropped off by family and friends mixed with the aroma of lovingly prepared food. The Kennedy children’s stockings were stuffed and hung heavily from the fireplace mantel. The tree, glistening with decorations and tinsel was surrounded by gifts and toys for the children from grandparents, aunts and uncles and the Kennedy’s large extended family. Toys and gifts spilled out across the living room rug. More toys than the children could possible play with, more gifts than they could use…many of which would end up in a closet or in the back of the garage.
The house was filled with joy. Yet Jake and Sparky Kennedy felt something was missing…how to engage their children not simply with the joy of receiving gifts but with the Spirit of Christmas…kindness, good will, sharing with others. And, as Jake succinctly put it, “Showing the kids that it wasn’t just all about them”.
The next year the Kennedys expanded their Christmas tradition. With friends, co-workers, and clients of Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy volunteering their time and donating gifts and money, Christmas in the City was born. That first year 165 mothers and children from Boston Homeless Shelters were guests at a party at Boston City Hall, with festive decorations, games, a holiday meal and a gift for each child that the child had asked Santa to deliver.
In the two decades since Christmas in the City has expanded its scope. In 2010 the spectacular party hosted over 3000 children and parents from homeless shelters from Boston and surrounding communities. A banquet, live entertainment, a Winter Wonderland with games, rides, a petting zoo, kid friendly activities from the Museum of Science and the Children’s Museum, a day in a stress free, safe environment made up the activities and each child received a personalized gift from Santa which the child had wished for.
In addition, CITC distributed toys and gifts to almost 2000 families who could not be accommodated at the event.
Christmas in the City is now engaged in activities throughout the year. A Thanksgiving food distribution for families in need; an Adopt- a-Family program to assist families transitioning from a shelter to their own home; assisting homeless families providing support to help finding employment, financial aid and legal advise, daycare and other help to get back on their feet.
But Christmas in the City has never lost sight of its core value, the spirit of the season–kindness, good will and caring for our neighbors.
And we do it with no paid staff, no paid executive director, no paid fund raising or development team. Christmas in the City works as a 100% volunteer organization where members of the community, from all backgrounds and walks of life, donate their time, donate money and gifts and do what they can to help their neighbors have “The Best Day of the Year”.
Christmas in the City Volunteers, who include the Kennedy children, do everything. They solicit donations of toys and money, set tables, decorate the party site, drive trucks, load and unload those trucks, wait tables, in-put data, answer phones, distribute toys, clean up and sweep the floor when the party is over.
The first CITC event in 1989 brought 165 children, with their parents in tow, from various shelters throughout the city to City Hall. Each child was given an individually selected gift, taken from their wish list, from Santa. Entertainment and a holiday meal were also provided.
The growth of the program has been spectacular. By 1997 the event hosted 1250 guests. There were 15 different games and rides, 5 groups of performers, a 7 course meal, free haircuts donated by the Salon Pini of Newbury Street, and of course Santa. In addition to the present they received from their wish list, the children received stuffed animals, hats, gloves, t-shirts, and educational books. All of this was put on with the help of 600+ unpaid volunteers, including junior high and high school age kids from area schools.
In 2010, we hosted over 3000 children, with uncounted games and rides (including, according to Jake, every type of bouncy castle know to exist), day long entertainment, haircuts for moms from Salon Pini which have become a staple, Santas to visit, great food, visiting celebrities, a special gift for each child from his or her wish list, artificial snow and real trees, and much, much more.
CITC also distributed gifts to over 1800 families we could not accommodate at the event. All of this was put together and executed by over 1000 volunteers.
Christmas in the City now has year around programs which include distributing birthday presents for the children, and seminars for parents. We have also helped start a day care center at the Lifehouse Shelter that is managed by the residents.
In 1995 the Adopt-a-Family program was started. The impetus was to create family intervention with lasting and concrete results. The program enlists volunteers to “follow” a family when they leave a shelter. The volunteers develop a relationship with the families and help them with financial management and other day to day support and issues they need help with.
Over the years wonderful human interest stories have surfaced. One such example is the previously homeless children who have come back to CITC as volunteers. Another account is the story of one of the Adopt-a-Family volunteers who spent numerous hours, and endured many hardships, helping a homeless family get on their feet. When the volunteer was unexpectedly hospitalized the first people to visit this person was the family they had helped.