Our Story

Boston’s Christmas in the City runs non-denominational holiday events for children and families experiencing homelessness and poverty, and throughout the year is always on the lookout for ways to help those in need. Founded in 1989, Christmas in the City is a 100% volunteer organization with a strong ethos of “community caring for community.”

1988: something’s missing

It’s December 1988. Jake and Sparky Kennedy’s family’s growing. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care – and stuffed. The tree is ringed with more toys and gifts than the kids will ever use. While the house is filled with joy, Jake and Sparky feel something’s missing: how to make sure their kids can experience not only the joy of receiving gifts, but the spirit of the season: kindness, goodwill, sharing with others. As Jake puts it, “showing the kids that it wasn’t just all about them”.

1989: something’s happening

It’s December 1989, and a new family tradition begins. With friends, co-workers, and clients of Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy volunteering their time and donating gifts and money, Christmas in the City is born. That first year, 165 mothers and children from Boston homeless shelters are guests at a party at Boston City Hall, complete with festive decorations, games, a holiday meal and a gift for each child that the child had asked Santa to deliver.

And that something keeps growing

After that first party, Christmas in the City grew rapidly. By 2019, the last year we hosted our party – a truly magical experience –  4,000+ children (and their parents) from Boston-area homeless shelters enjoyed a memorable day with us. The day after the party, we always ran Monday Mania, at which thousands of toys and gifts were distributed to families live on the edge of poverty and need a bit of holiday help.

Something’s happening year round

It’s Christmas in the City throughout the year. In 1995, we initiated a family assistance program, providing services to families transitioning from shelter living to their own homes and providing support to those in need. For many years, at Thanksgiving we distributed food to families in need. Halloween in the City let inner-city kids trick-or-treat in their own neighborhood. Each fall, we ran a job fair at Roxbury Community College.

And then, in 2020, covid struck. And Christmas in the City was further struck when Jake Kennedy, our beloved founder, died of ALS. With covid, we had to cancel the big party. But we still found ways to help folks out. Through Christmas in the City: Delivered, we’ve been providing families in a number of congregate shelters with some holiday cheer – gifts for the kids and a meal from a community restaurant. And through Jake’s Toy Mania (rebranded to honor Jake Kennedy), we continued helping families in need with gifts for their children. As with our original party, CITC: Delivered and the post-covid Jake’s Toy Mania started small, but have grown each year. In 2022, Delivered delivered to nearly 1,000 kids, and Toy Mania had over 1,000 participating families. In 2023, we’re anticipating significant growth for both of these programs.  So we’re not going anywhere, and there’s plenty more to come…

In everything we do, Christmas in the City has never lost sight of its core value, the spirit of the season: kindness, goodwill and caring for our neighbors.

All volunteer, all the time

And we do 100% of everything with volunteers. Many of them have been with us since way back in 1989. All four Kennedy children, whose 1988 Christmas inspired Jake and Sparky to start Christmas in the City, have volunteered over the years. And in 2018, Chip Kennedy branched out and began Christmas in the City, New York.

Having volunteered for CITC for 25 years, I can say that the day of the party is the best day of the year. It brings so much joy to families throughout Boston who are living in temporary housing.

Alexandra L, Volunteer: Floor manager, holiday party

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35 Lake Shore Road Salem, NH 03079
Christmas in the City is registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Contributions to CITC are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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