News / USA

    Charities Spread Holiday Cheer to Poor Children, Homeless

    The Christmas holiday season for many Americans is a time for giving and helping those who are less fortunate.

    The Christmas holiday season for many Americans is a time for giving and helping those who are less fortunate.

    Hundreds of children in this low-income neighborhood come to an annual holiday party at the Children's Institute, a private charity.  They meet Santa Claus and take home gifts donated by the toymaker Mattel and other companies.

    Mary Collins is a retired business executive and longtime volunteer who serves on the charity's board of trustees.  She says the party is the highlight of the year for the children.

    "They aren't able to have Christmas presents under their tree on Christmas morning," said Collins.  "And because of all the wonderful companies and people who volunteer, they're able to come and pick out a present and a book and participate."

    Katherine Martinez, 11, comes here often for after-school programs, and her mother, Rosa, takes a class on parenting skills.  Rosa Martinez says the moms and kids are enjoying the party.

    "We have fun, and they can have presents and enjoy with other friends and other people around us," said Martinez.

    The party is a chance for kids to forget the many social problems they face in their neighborhood, says Nina Revoyr, the institute's executive vice president.

    "Community violence, things happening in their neighborhoods, also things like child abuse and neglect, domestic violence," said Revoyr.  "Even kids that might be traumatized just because something terrible has happened in their families."

    The Institute offers counseling for children traumatized by violence, or those who have lost parents.  There are also arts and enrichment programs after school.

    In another part of town, known as Skid Row, homeless men live in small encampments, and community workers come by to offer food and other help.  

    The homeless come to the Los Angeles Mission, a religious charity, for shelter and a meal.  There is a room of computers, where they can look for work on the Internet.

    Jason Hemming was homeless once and got help at the mission.  He says it's rough on the streets at Christmas.

    "You get sentimental about your family, looking back on childhood opening presents under the tree, things like that.  And it brings back a lot of memories," said Hemming.

    The homeless live a world apart from those who crave expensive gifts, says mission president Herb Smith. He says they have simple wants for the holidays - a warm pair of gloves, for example.

    "Or they would like to get reunited with their family, a very basic human desire, if you will," said Smith.  "Not a lot of Maseratis and Ferraris and all the special baubles that some of us think about at Christmas, but very basic human need and human desire."

    Those who run these charities say the holiday season reminds people to reach out to others throughout the year.

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