EAST ST. LOUIS — Without the Christian Activity Center's Adopt A Child for Christmas program, more than a few children living in public housing projects would have nothing under the tree Christmas morning.
The lists aren't extravagant: Bikes, clothes, dolls, winter coats and gloves, shoes, a new bed.
Alisha Winford's five children have been regularly attending the activities at the nonprofit center for more than 10 years. Winford was a center attendee when she was a child.
"I really appreciate it," she said of the program. "I've been out of work for seven months. I will be able to get my kids some things, but I know the CAC will help me so my kids won't have a bare Christmas tree."
The Adopt A Child for Christmas Program has been going strong for 25 years. The program invites individuals, groups, businesses and churches to adopt a CAC child and provide up to $100 in Christmas gifts to that child. The children have Christmas wish lists and sponsors can either purchase the gifts themselves or let the CAC's Christmas Committee shop on their behalf. The gifts are wrapped and given to the parents of the children in the program who then are the gift givers on Christmas morning.
Winford's children, from age 7 up to 17, have benefited from the activities at the center, she said.
"I can't always be home to help them with their homework, but, they can come down here and get that," Winford said. "It really helps me out a lot."
Carrie Roberson's four children, aged 9 to 14, also attend the center regularly and without the center and its Christmas program, Christmas Day would most likely be just another day.
"The Christmas program has made a very big difference for us," Roberson said. "I haven't been working and I really, really appreciate the CAC. They help us out."
All of Roberson's children have asked for bikes this year, she added. The sponsors of her children have brought them beds and a swing set in the past, she said.
On Thursday afternoon, a group of high school students from Harrisburg High School arrived at the center loaded with gifts from a shopping spree in Fairview Heights. They adopted four of the CAC children through the Christmas program and wrapped the gifts at the center. It's about a three-hour bus ride from Harrisburg to East St. Louis.
The 20 students, freshmen through seniors, are members of the high school's student council and have been holding fundraisers throughout the year to purchase gifts for their four children.
"The kids wanted to do some sort of charity program for children. We thought about doing something international, then we decided we wanted to do something closer to home," said Krystal Wilson, a language arts teacher at the high school who accompanied the students. "Here, they get to experience everything and they are excited to get to meet the kids this year."
It is the second year the Harrisburg High School student council has participated in the Adopt a Child Program at the CAC.
"When we got back on the bus last year the kids were like 'Wow, we are so blessed,'" she said. "They really feel good about being able to help someone."
The students purchased all the gifts on each child's gift list and also bought each of them a winter jacket.
"I think we'll stick with this," Wilson said of the CAC Christmas program. "They really enjoy it and they get a lot out of it."
Angela Cotton's five children have been going to the CAC every week for about eight years, she said.
"It's a good, positive place for the kids," she said. "It keeps them out of the things they could get involved in in the projects. My kids love to come to the center and when they can't come, they get mad. It's real safe for them. They can learn a lot of positive in a good environment and there are no negative things going on here."
Her children are all part of the organization's Adopt a Child for Christmas program and this year, they are asking for bikes, toys, clothes and shoes.
"It helps a lot for Christmas, and for all year," she said of the program and the CAC. "It's a big help. If it wasn't here, Christmas wouldn't be good this year."
Whitney Cole's 7-year-old daughter rushes to the center every day after school, Cole said. She comes home, changes out of her school uniform and heads to the center to get help with her homework and be with her friends.
"We have a rule at home: If you don't go to school, you don't go to the center, so, she's always making sure she's going to school," Cole said. "Even when she has a doctor's appointment, she's asking to go back to school afterwards."
On her Christmas wish list this year: Hello Kitty boots, a bike and a camera. She also asked for a Kindle Fire, but Cole told her daughter not to get her hopes up.
"I told her that just because she put it on her list doesn't mean she's going to get it," Cole said with a chuckle. "But, it doesn't hurt to wish."
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2667.