On Christmas morning 2017, 7-year-old Jackson Harris received his first Christmas present since fleeing his home with his mother and living in a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Made possible by Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Duncanville located on Danieldale Road, parishioners and their local Knights of Columbus Council, nearly 350 toys and close to $1,000 were generously collected for the organization Brighter Tomorrows.
The eight-year tradition of hosting a breakfast with none other than St. Nick himself, involves an entire community.
“Based on the number of plates we went through and the amount of food we served, anywhere from 450 to 500 people participated in the event,” said Deborah Pearson, children’s faith formation coordinator at Holy Spirit.
Pearson, organizer of the breakfast since it was rebranded in 2010, spends nearly three full days decorating the church’s gym in the community center in preparation for the fundraiser. Only one other coworker, Lisa Estrada, helps her.
“Two old ladies do all the decorating,” said Pearson, laughing.
The limited budget for the event is cut each year, she said.
“We do a lot of creative decorating, so we can save on cost,” said Pearson.
In contrast to the limited amount of funds spent on the event, nearly $1,000 and 350 toys were donated by the parish.
“I’m really proud to say that the toys that came in this year were very generous. There are going to be some really happy kids on Christmas day,” she said.
A life-size dollhouse and an elaborate train set were only a few examples of the gifts collected.
The event’s volunteers consisted of about 50 people in the sacraments program in need of their community service hours for confirmation, the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council, and the parish’s Youth Ministry.
“I’m so proud of the participation. Everyone worked tremendously hard. They did awesome,” said Pearson.
The parish’s participation and generosity benefited the agency Brighter Tomorrows.
“The organization has dedicated itself to empowering victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by providing emergency safe shelter, transitional housing, and support services” said Kay Lewis, volunteer coordinator at Brighter Tomorrows.
Brighter Tomorrows was founded in 1989 as a collaborative effort among Grand Prairie City Council, Police Department and Human Services. The organization has greatly expanded throughout the metroplex and has become “one of the largest domestic violence and sexual assault agencies in Dallas County,” according to its website.
“Our organization has many layers,” said Lewis.
“The first and most important being our two safe shelters in Irving and Grand Prairie, offering safe shelter to victims for a period of about 30 days.”
These safe shelters allow their occupants a place to decide on and to plan the next step in their lives said Lewis.
“While they are there, we provide food, clothing, counseling, and other services. These services include taking them to court, taking them to get a new driver’s license, or to get a new social security card. Anything we can do to support them as they decide how to move forward in their lives,” said Lewis.
In addition to the safe shelters, Brighter Tomorrows also possesses eight units of transitional housing.
“The occupants of the transitional housing units can stay in our apartments for up to two years as they work and take the next step in their lives,” said Lewis.
The final layer of the Brighter Tomorrows agency is their two thrift stores located in De Soto and Grand Prairie.
“We use the stores to sell merchandise to the public in order to raise money for our agency. We also allow our clients access to the thrift stores, if there are specific things they need,” said Lewis.
According to its website, Brighter Tomorrows provided shelter for 968 women and children, served 27,225 meals, and responded to 3,009 hot line calls and provided crisis intervention in 2015 alone.
As volunteer coordinator, Lewis also attended the Breakfast with St. Nick and joined the community effort.
“The stack of toys was so overwhelming. When I came in to collect the toys, I said, ‘I don’t think those are all going to fit in my car’, but sure enough they all did,” said Lewis.
Lewis also spoke on the deep meaning the donated toys had to these children.
“You can imagine being in a shelter over the holidays and being out of your home and everything you’re familiar with, and how much it means to have a little bit of cheer from a nice, new toy,” said Lewis.
Lewis also said that each child was able to receive several toys.
“We’re so thrilled Holy Spirit continues to support us,” said Lewis, thanking the Holy Spirit community. “The toys have brought so many smiles to these kids’ faces.”