PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 23, 2011— Denean Thomas sat in her wheelchair eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. She excelled at Hardy Williams Charter School; now she is home schooled. Denean was diagnosed a year ago with a brain stem tumor. As if radiation and chemotherapy did not take enough of a toll on her small body, she was shot twice in the leg in July 2010 simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Denean’s mother, LaTitia Johnson, says Denean’s fighting spirit keeps her going. So do her four siblings, ages seven through 14, who lovingly dote on their sister.
The Thomas family was at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Southwest Philadelphia for state Senator Anthony H. Williams’ Holiday Party and Toy Giveaway. They were among more than 200 children and their parents who stood wide-eyed with excitement, awaiting the arrival of Santa at this special treat-filled party.
“Gifts for the Holidays” featured a magician and tasty refreshments for children in need. The party attendees were pre-selected by social service and faith-based institutions throughout the 8th Senatorial District. Lincoln Day Educational Center and Keystone Mercy Health Plan served as primary event sponsors and hosts.
In an outpouring of seasonal generosity, individuals and organizations in the community donated financial resources and hundreds of new toys and books in the weeks leading up to this holiday event. These sponsors were: Pagano Enterprises; Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, which hosted the event; Consortium, Inc.; Sugarhouse Casino; Pacifico Ford; Cobbs Creek Community Environmental and Education Center; Community College of Philadelphia; The Killino Firm; Campus Apartments; Columbus Construction; Maven, Inc.; Beneficial Bank; Walmart; The Walker Firm; WaWa; and ShopRite.
“I look across the room at the smiles on these children’s faces and feel humbled that because I have been elected to serve the 8th District, I can make the holidays a little brighter for the children and their families.”
As Williams addressed the crowd, he understood that these challenging economic times have brought hardships on families. With area unemployment at nearly 11 percent, higher than the national average, and scores of families struggling to make ends meet, holiday delights have been out of reach for many.
“Children aren’t supposed to understand economic downturns. They are supposed to do well in school, dream about the future and be happy at Christmas. They certainly aren’t supposed to worry about getting shot if they’re playing outside like Denean Thomas did,” said Williams. “This celebration and our efforts to get guns off the streets are our contributions toward that end – to give children and their families a safe and happy Christmas experience.”
Two year old Anh Khoa Tran bounded into the museum’s party area with his four year old sister Anh Thu and their mother Thu Hang. Anh Khoa. He could hardly contain his excitement about the activities awaiting him.
Dee the Magician enthralled the young crowd, all of them waving their hands high in the air to be picked as his next assistant and trying to understand how he made a hat out of shredded paper and pulled coins out of their ears.
Chigbawa Nwegbo was animated all afternoon. Handsomely clothed in slacks and a suit vest, he watched the younger children laugh at the magic tricks, often taking pictures of his siblings and engaging the adults in conversation. It was not hard to imagine him one day following in the footsteps of his father, Colwyn Borough Councilman Sunday Nwegbo.
The highly anticipated arrival of Santa Claus was excitedly announced by Williams, who then greeted the children and their parents as they lined up to have their pictures taken with Santa and receive their toys from Santa’s elves.
As Santa bellowed a jolly “ho ho ho,” four year old Marquise Floyd Reid wasn’t sure what to make of him. “I’m scared,” he said quietly as he hid behind his mother. That all changed when it was his turn to receive his toys.
Williams will see to it that Santa’s elves deliver gifts to any child who was invited to the event, but could not attend.
“The love and generosity among families, friends and neighbors in this room is what the spirit of Christmas is all about,” Williams said. “What’s important here today is that these children will have great memories of a happy Christmas and that their parents will have a little more ease.
That certainly was the case for Denean Thomas and her family.
As for two year old Ahn Khoa Tran, he was last seen grinning ear to ear, trying to carry a new bicycle almost as tall as he is across the room as he waved goodbye to Santa.