Five years ago, Tara Lee found herself in a terrible spot. She had a 2-year-old son and a baby on the way, but she didn’t have a place to live.
She was fortunate enough to get into Sojourner House, a terrific family-
friendly shelter in Roxbury run by the unsinkable Ruby Brown and her band of renown.
“I had my baby girl in July, and as it was coming up to Christmas, Ruby came to me and said: ‘There’s this wonderful event. It’s called Christmas in the City, and you’ve got to take your kids.’ ” Tara Lee said. “And I’m like, OK. I had no idea what she was talking about.”
So the buses came on a cold morning and all the mothers and the kids piled on and drove across town.
And they got off the bus and walked into “a winter wonderland,” Tara Lee said. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”
The interior of the exhibition hall had been decorated from top to bottom with tinsel and garlands and Christmas decorations. Artificial snow floated down from the ceiling. A horse-drawn sleigh drove past them.
Tara Lee was cradling her 6-month-old daughter, Taylor, and when she looked at 2-year-old Tajh, “his eyes were wide as saucers,” she said. “So were mine.”
That OMG moment is what Jake and Sparky Kennedy and a team of thousands of volunteers aim for every year. Like Santa, they never fail to deliver.
Christmas in the City is carried off with attention to logistical detail last seen at this time of year by Dwight Eisenhower in the run-up to the Battle of the Bulge. The premise behind Christmas in the City is simple, if pulling it off is not: Every kid should get one gift that they ask for on Christmas. Homeless kids should be no different.
But every year, the need grows.
“We’re going to have 4,400 kids from homeless shelters at the party,” said Jake Kennedy, who when he isn’t making kids’ dreams come true runs a physical therapy practice downtown. “After the party, we’re distributing gifts to another 10,000 kids in need.”
At Christmas in the City, they are not resting on their laurels. They add something new every year. This year, Santa’s grand entrance will be accompanied by the bagpipes and drums of the Boston Police Gaelic Column.
“We’ve never tried to serve so many kids,” Kennedy said. “We really need people to get names from us, so the kids can have a present from their own wish list.”
If you think Christmas has become too commercial, if you are sick of stores putting up decorations in October as radio stations start playing Christmas songs 24/7, if you want to do something reminding you what Christmas is about, go to www.christmasinthecity.org , call the Kennedy Brothers at 617-542-6611, or stop by their clinic at 45 Franklin St. anytime from 6 a.m. to midnight and get the name of some homeless kid and get them that one gift they really wanted.
If you just want to drop off a check or any kind of present, stop by Lexington Toyota or the Seaport Hotel, where the valet will pick it up so you don’t even have to park.
But now, back to Tara Lee. She is going back to Christmas in the City this year, but this time she and her kids are going to give, not receive.
“We’ve come a long way since the first time we went to Christmas in the City,” she said.
They’ve got a place to live, in Jamaica Plain. She has a job, and the kids are in school. So Tara Lee and her kids are going to help out at next week’s Christmas in the City.
“Jake and Sparky didn’t say what I’ll be doing, but I’ll do anything to help out,” she said. “I want to see all those faces light up.”