Hundreds of Englewood children may be without gifts after Toys for Tots problem

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An administrative problem with Toys for Tots is keeping an organization in the Englewood community from receiving toys for hundreds of children this year. (WLS)

An administrative problem with Toys for Tots is keeping an organization in the Englewood community from receiving toys for hundreds of children this year.

Geraldine Smith knows the pressure is on. She's got a little more than a week until her organization, Life Builders United, Inc., is hosting 1,000 kids for a Christmas party. And she has almost no Christmas gifts to give to the kids.

"We give every child a gift bag," Smith said. "Every child."

Smith has thrown this party for the last five years, last year serving more than 700 kids from the Englewood neighborhood - one of the poorest, most crime-ridden communities in the country. Many of the children's parents are incarcerated, so each kid gets a warm meal, entertainment and Christmas gifts including toys and clothing. But not this year.

Because of an administrative mistake, the Toys for Tots organization is unable to provide the group with toys. In fact, the U.S. Marines is still collecting toys to try to meet the overwhelming need everywhere.

So Smith's organization is left to try to come up with what they need on their own.

"These children need help," said Shannon Beard, a volunteer. "They need coats, hats, gloves, toys, anything to make Christmas happen."

Smith herself has a colorful background. She was the first woman on Illinois' death row and served 19 years behind bars before being released six years ago. Since then she's devoted her time to the community. The Christmas party is one of the group's most significant events.

"I'm able to mentor to them and to get them to see, you can overcome what has been labeled on you over here," Smith said. "And that way I keep them off the street and keep them alive."

Volunteers are busy making sure they know the names and ages of the kids coming to the party. They are committed to making sure they put smiles on the faces of those kids who might not otherwise have any Christmas celebration. They are moving ahead, confident they will find toys. Somewhere.

"This has been labeled as the worst and most broken community in America, yet less help comes into this community," Smith said.

So with just over a week to go, they're not only hoping for a Christmas miracle, they're expecting it.

For more information, visit Life Builders United's website or email Smith at gsmith.lbui@gmail.com.

Related Topics:
toys for totsChicago - Englewood
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