On a cool, misty morning last December 23rd, the Oak Cliff community gathered in a celebration of fidelity, giving, and joy.
The doors were scheduled to open at 10:00AM, but the line had formed hours before. The masses gathered while laughter and music thumped through the air. Charcoal grills sizzled and smoked in defiance of the soggy, gray atmosphere- hot dogs and hamburgers might not be a holiday feast, but they kept any mouths from going hungry. Bubbles swarmed over and through the crowd as kids attacked coloring books in a frenzy of scribbles. As ten o’clock approached, the multitude swelled. Volunteers, united in common purpose, completed the set up and signaled to Mr. Gregg A. Smith that they were ready to begin.
The local blues legend began the event 14 years ago, in the aftermath of his son’s tragic 2002 murder. “He was killed while trying to help others,” explained Gregg’s wife Barbara, “And it was his generosity of spirit that inspired us to begin. We wanted to honor that- we didn’t want the giving to stop.” The pain of their loss will never fade, but seeing how this benevolent event has grown out of that horror is a monument to the power of positive thinking. Their first year, the Bring Joy With A Toy drive could only touch a handful of households. Now it provides gifts to thousands of disadvantaged children, most of them residents of Oak Cliff.
Another pinnacle of the Dallas music scene, The Right Reverend of the Blues, R.L. Griffin, partners with the Smiths to host the event at his famous Blues Palace. The venue was packed with folding tables, heavy with donations. Bicycles covered the stage and occupied the center of the hall. “The kids are going to go straight for the bikes- they always do,” Barbara told the volunteers, “Just remember; they’re getting raffled off at the end.”
The doors opened and the families were let in from the misty parking lot a few at a time. Their years of experience showed in the way the organizers handled the crowd.
“We’ve found everything runs smoother if we don’t let the parents get involved at all. You’d be surprised- when the kids get to decide what they’d like for themselves, a lot of the time it’s not expensive. Just the smallest thing. And when they get to pick out exactly what it is that they want, there is a light in their eyes. It just makes me feel so happy,” said Gregg’s daughter Victoria, vibrant with cheer. “I’m not too big on the holidays,” she added, but you wouldn’t think it to look at her that day. She was dressed for the occasion including elf ears, passing out cookies to the volunteers, all grins. “I don’t get all excited for Thanksgiving or Christmas… Not New Year’s, no. For me, today is it. I wait for today all year long. It makes up for everything that went wrong. I love it!”
Escorted by volunteers, the children overlooked the donations. Victoria explained, “Every kid gets to pick out one big toy, and one little toy. And let me tell you: These are big decisions for them!” Some of the youngest kids were simply overwhelmed by their options. Others knew exactly what they wanted before they got inside and bolted straight for it. Many of the kids, however, didn’t know what was in store for them until they stood blinking in the doorway, jaw dropped in amazement at the treasures before them. Oak Cliff has some of the cheapest housing in the Dallas area, and many impoverished families move there when they have no other choice. Charity is often scarce in The Cliff.
After the delighted children picked out their presents, over 50 bicycles were given out by raffle. The winners were brought back inside, one at a time, to choose the bike that’s the right fit for them & to pose for pictures with Santa. “What if someone wins, but there’s no bike left that’s right for them?” I asked Victoria.
“That’s what the video games are for,” she beamed & pointed out a stack of retro Sega Genesis systems. “Like I said, we’ve been doing this for a few years now. We’ve smoothed most of the wrinkles out.”
It was an distinct pleasure to be involved with the Bring Joy With a Toy drive & giveaway. The Almasri Marzwanian & Sepulveda Law Group is glad to be a part of the event, the community, and we look forward to seeing it grow even more in 2017!
-Written by D.M. Eaton