Chicago center reflects spirit of Christmas, justice

CHICAGO — Celebrating the holiday season and the spirit of giving was the feeling shared by well over 200 families at this year’s 28th Community Christmas Program held at the Unity Center here Dec. 20. The Unity Center is located on the south side of the city in the working-class community of Bridgeport, and is home to the Illinois district of the Communist Party USA, the Young Communist League Chicago club, the Workers Education Society, the People’s Weekly World, the Bridgeport Volunteer Center and Affordable Power to the People.

“A Just Holiday: When the human spirit forges a law that guarantees the right to be warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Pass the affordable energy act now,” was the theme of the annual Christmas program spearheaded by Affordable Power to the People and 35 volunteers. The event brought in about 70 seniors, 75 families and 70 single parents who all received Christmas baskets full of food donated and purchased with funds raised by hundreds of volunteers throughout the city.

Presents like bracelets, children’s books, board games, candles, audio tapes of Christmas songs, stuffed animals, hand knitted hats and scarves were wrapped and handed out to the participants.

Jahnel Mulins, 22, is a mother of a 7-month-old baby boy and a 6-year-old little girl. She lives in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and is currently a student at Morton College. She was one of the registered participants to receive a food basket. When asked what she thought about the program she told the World, “It’s a good thing for families, because some families don’t have money to buy food.”

Lydia Maldonado is 14 years old and attends Simpson High School. She just gave birth to a son on Nov. 28. Lydia is the youngest in a family of six and is from the Pilsen community on the city’s near south side. She just had her tongue pierced, so she found it difficult to speak when she was asked why the Christmas basket is a good idea. “’Cause it helps people out,” she said. “Basically just giving back to the community.” Lydia also mentioned how programs such as after-school care and alternative projects for youth are needed in the area to “help kids stay off the street.” Lydia also expressed how “its hard being a mom” at such a young age.

Phyllis Perina, 64, from Brighton Park is a retired bar tender and waitress who now makes jewelry, mostly as a hobby. Perina has five grown children and nine grandchildren. She plans to celebrate the holiday with her 86-year-old mother in Southern Illinois. “I think it’s a great idea. I’m buying a basket for my neighbor who needs it,” she explained. Her neighbors are a couple from Mexico with two young children, who are having a hard time getting by these days. “It’s a good program,” Perina told the PWW. She also wishes that there were “more community activities, community watch clubs. More people should be aware of it, and they should open up the high schools more, for teenagers.”

One member of the volunteer team that managed the operation of the basket program throughout the day, and who greeted each recipient as they entered the Center, was Maria Elena Majic. Majic is 70-years-young from Michoacan, Mexico, and migrated to Chicago at the age of 20. She studied garment production in Mexico and when she moved to the city she worked in a women’s clothing factory for 18 years. In Spanish, she described the situation, all to common, of families suffering from unemployment, lack of social services and little economic assistance.

“There are people who have little resources, who can’t pay for their electricity, their gas, rent and medicine because there is no help,” Majic said. Referring to the much needed Illinois Affordable Energy Plan, she said that as “retired workers, we want to pass a bill that solves the energy program. If the mayor makes a lot of money, and the president of the gas and electric companies have to pay the same amount bills that we do, that’s injustice and unfair for the human rights of the poor.”

Another volunteer, Terrence Joiner, is from Jefferson Park on the city’s near northwest side. Joiner, 23, is a senior at Columbia College, studying illustration in the Fine Arts Department. He hopes to work professionally one day for an animation company. If that doesn’t work out, he will do freelance art, or possibly work for a newspaper. Terrence really likes comic book animation and his favorite superheroes are Batman and Spiderman.

“I’m here today to help out with the 28th annual community Christmas program, giving out food and presents to families,” Joiner said. Loaves of bread, chicken, rice, fruit, canned goods, baby food and vegetables were some of the items in the basket. He said he was here to “help out families in need who are going through hard times, to lighten the burden, and make it easier and help them have a good holiday. I believe everybody should have a good holiday, to let them know somebody’s out there who is looking out for them.”

While the room filled up with families who were waiting to pick up their paper brown bag of nourishment, little 4-year-old Jackey and her big brother Armando Junior, 7, sat cheerfully in their chairs next to their mom Violet Mariamontes, 25. Jackey wants a red teddy bear from Santa this Christmas and Junior hopes he will get a brand new controller for his Xbox video game. When asked what she was doing here, little Jackey told the World that they were “giving presents away for me and my family.” The children’s mom explained in the end how “if you don’t have something to make for Christmas, they help you out.”