By Sean Barron
A big smile crossed Jakeia Hickson’s face when she thought about spending part of the holidays visiting a relative in Columbus – and when she ticked off the gifts 7-year-old Isaiah Hickson received.
“He got everything he likes,” Jakeia said about her nephew Isaiah, of Girard, who took home a clear box that included a Ninja Turtles set, a coloring book and puzzles.
Jakeia’s 7-year-old son, Anthony Hickson, also got an early dose of Christmas, courtesy of Saturday’s 28th annual Christmas Gift Box Giveaway and Carnival at Heart Reach Ministries, 211 Redondo Road, on the North Side.
Also hosting the free, two-hour family-friendly event was Christ Community Church in Campbell.
Isaiah and Anthony were among the estimated 300 youngsters who took home boxes of gifts such as toys, gloves, toothpaste, boxes of crayons, school supplies and pairs of socks.
Beyond giving away items that area churches had donated, the community-based gathering was to bring more people together, show the youngsters they’re cared for and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, explained Pastor Bob Wissinger, Heart Reach’s children’s pastor.
Pastor Wissinger, affectionately known as “Pastor Bob,” noted that this also marked the first time Heart Reach Ministries has partnered with NOW Youngstown for the giveaway. The faith-based organization collaborates with police, churches and city government, in part by hosting rallies in and bringing resources to neighborhoods plagued by crime and violence.
“This is just a fun thing for the community,” he added.
Also partaking in some of the fun were Devin McCaman and his 17-year-old brother, Cameron Williams, an East High School student.
“I like wrestlers, race cars and Transformers,” said Devin, a Harding Elementary School third-grader, referring to the three main toys he hopes to receive for Christmas.
Cameron added he looks forward to some time off school and spending the holidays with family.
Children and adults alike enjoyed a variety of Christmas-themed activities, along with games, food, face-painting, gospel music and inspirational messages. In addition, a prayer tent was set up for those who wished to pray for a loved one, themselves and other things.
Also highlighting the festivities was a puppet show to Christmas carols that included a skit. A short time later, some of the children volunteered to form four teams for a competition in which they wrapped one of their team members in paper, then added bows and paper Christmas lights, making them resemble human Christmas trees.
Many of the youngsters are part of Heart Reach’s Super Kids After-School and Super Kids Thrive programs, noted Pastor Paris Yanno, the 28-year-old faith-based nonprofit organization’s executive director.
“We teach the Bible and character building,” which includes instilling in the children in kindergarten through eighth grade the importance of respecting others, obeying authority figures, being honest and working hard, she said.
Character building also is a main thrust behind the Super Kids Thrive effort, she continued.
Saturday’s Gift Box Giveaway was to brighten the holidays for the youngsters, some of whom are experiencing various hardships and difficulties. More than just fulfilling their Christmas wish lists, the event was to remind the children that Heart Reach Ministries also provides a safe place for them to learn, play and discuss problems and challenges they may be facing, said Pastor Wissinger, who’s also a licensed social worker.
“We want them to know people love them and that there’s hope,” he added. “There’s somebody out there that cares; we care and Jesus cares.”