Families get last-minute Christmas help

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by Vinti Singh
Connecticut Post

December 26, 2010

Tyjai Reddick, 12, smiles after being given a computer as a Christmas gift at the East End Community Council on Christmas Day, 2010. Reddick was a member of the Chargers city football team which traveled to Florida and won the American youth Football Championship.

BRIDGEPORT — George Johnson, 11, looked at the long table covered with toys. He reached for a "Star Wars" light saber for himself, and then searched through the piles until he found a bottle of bubbles for his niece and a photo album for his sister.

Hands full, he made his way to the door so he could head home.

Ted Meekins, the director of the East End Community Center, stopped him at the door.

"How many brothers and sisters do you have?" he asked.

Four, George answered, but explained he would only be seeing one today. Meekins studied him for an infinitesimal second, and then told him he had a something just for him. Meekins stepped out and returned with a new basketball.

"This is special for you, so you can practice your skills," Meekins said. "Now we have to get you some things for the rest of your sisters."

The East End Community Council provides toys to low-income fathers, mothers and grandparents on Christmas morning. Most of those parents are struggling to find and hold jobs, and for them, there often isn't enough left over at the end of the year to get their children Christmas gifts.

Fathers were lining up outside the East End Community Center on Stratford Avenue on Christmas Eve to be sure gifts would be available, Meekins said, and he assured them they could come back the next morning.

Christmas morning, parents and children sifted through the toys on the tables, but Meekins kept an eye out for those who deserved something extra special. Like George.

George lives in the East End of Bridgeport, which is "Santa's last stop," in Meekins' words. Saturday, loaded up with the stash of toys he chose, George couldn't carry another thing. Meekins told him to go home, drop the gifts off, and come back for more.

"You can sense it," Meekins said. "His family is broken up. He won't be seeing all of his sisters today. But now, he can call them up and let them know he has presents for them."

Another child who got a special delivery was 12-year-old Tyjai Reddick. The seventh-grader from the North End was on the Bridgeport Chargers football team. The citywide team, which is part of the American Youth Football League, traveled to Kissimmee, Fla., earlier this year for the championships. They placed first and also won an award for best sportsmanship, Tyjai's mom, Charlene Allen-Reddick said.

But the trip to Florida was expensive, and Allen-Reddick, a single mom, said this year she has to give her three sons a "limited Christmas."

Because Tyjai did the city proud, Meekins sent two of his grandsons to fetch a desktop computer for him. He recounted Tyjai's victory for everyone in the room, gave him the computer, and told him he'd like to come to a football game when he plays in high school.

Tyjai said he was "excited" for the computer. Right now, he and his brothers have to wait until their mother gets home from work to use her company laptop for homework.

The toys were collected through drives at Bridgeport Hospital and the law firm of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder.

"It's definitely a blessing," Anita Bailey, 27, of the East End said. She stopped by with her daughter Tytiana, 8, who got nail polish, a puzzle, an arts & crafts kit, and Play-Doh. "A lot of people don't have enough to spread around. It was hard for me this year. I'm unemployed at the moment. But I think she's content now. She's happy. And that's all I want her to be."