Throngs of excited kids rushed into the gym at the Mason Clark Middle School on Saturday morning, hoping to win one of the gifts lined up at the annual Breakfast with Santa gift giveaway.
The event is in its 45th year running, thanks to the ongoing support of the East St. Louis chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of predominantly black, college-educated women. Ameren Illinois participated for the sixth year in a row to provide gifts such as brand new bikes, dolls and monster truck toys to children.
Kamuarious Underwood, 5, of Washington Park, was one of those kids. He had the lucky raffle ticket that won him a brand new race-car toy. When asked how he felt, he shouted, “Good!” He said he also wanted a motorcycle for Christmas.
Tickets are handed out free to children and families around the East St. Louis community, said Sherina Johnson, chairwoman of the event and Delta Sigma Theta member. She says the sorority attempts to hand out tickets where toys are needed most.
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“Putting on something like this is all about making sure the kids who need it most get the tickets,” Johnson said.
That means handing tickets out at after-school programs and giving tickets to educators who can pass them on to students who might not get any other Christmas presents, said chapter President Tauriana Lyles King, who has been attending the event since she was a child.
“This is a staple in the East St. Louis community,” King said, a staple that started out as a breakfast with donuts and juice 45 years ago.
Support from sorority members, a $5,000 donation from Ameren Illinois, and a $500 donation from Commerce Bank make it possible to ensure every child receives breakfast, a visit with Santa, and at least one small gift. About 200 lucky kids go home with one of the big gifts.
Erica Barbee, a mother of two twin boys, brought kids to the event, but said she didn’t tell them they might be winning a gift. If they did win, it would be a surprise, she said. But her sons Thomas and Tyler, both 5, didn’t seem to notice one way or the other as they waited for the gift giveaway to begin.
“We’ve been having a great day so far,” Thomas said.
Bringing community together is just as important as the gifts, said Paula Nixon, a sorority member and Ameren public relations employee.
This event to me is all about community outreach. You see people you may not have seen since last year.
Paula Nixon, Delta Sigma Theta sorority member
“This event to me is all about community outreach,” Nixon said. “You see people you may not have seen since last year.”
Though the event grows every year, organizers are still looking for more support, said Johnson, the event chairwoman. For more information, visit www.dsteslac.org or call 618-482-4405.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. is a private, not-for-profit organization with more than 1,000 collegiate and alumnae chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Ameren Illinois is an electric and gas delivery company based in Collinsville. Commerce Bank is an independent bank with major hubs in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.