When Sharee Gittens was a young single mom, she was broke and had nothing to give her kids at Christmas. Somebody at one of the homeless shelters told her about Christmas in the City.
She led her kids into the old Bayside center one cold Sunday.
“You should have seen their eyes,” she said. “You should have seen my eyes. It’s like walking into the biggest Christmas amusement park in the world.”
Fast-forward to today. Sharee Gittens works with homeless people. Now she’s the one telling young moms about Christmas in the City. She and her daughter Shaquille are among an army of 3,000 Christmas in the City volunteers who put on the greatest single day for some of the least fortunate among us.
Every year, for the last 26 years, Jake Kennedy and his wife, Sparky, somehow marshal an extraordinary amount of goodwill and good people, transforming a bland hall into a winter wonderland.
“Every year, it’s bigger than the last,” says Kennedy, who in his spare time — hah! — runs a physical therapy practice.
Last year, it was 4,200 homeless kids. This year it will be more.
Think about that.
It is beyond scandalous that there are that many homeless kids living in shelters and motels and God knows where else in and around Boston. It is beyond amazing that the great Nancy MacDonald, a Hingham mom with extraordinary computer skills, coordinates the dispatch of some 160 school buses to pick up kids and their parents at the various shelters.
The big party is Sunday, and the need is endless. The day after the party, volunteers will provide gifts for 13,000 to 14,000 other kids who are not yet homeless but perilously close to it and perilously poor.
“We always need more toys,” Kennedy said.
This is where you come in.
Consider that the first Christmas involved a family with no place to stay. If you think Christmas has become too commercial, if you are sick of stores putting Christmas decorations up before Halloween, if you want to do something that reminds you what Christmas is really about, go to www.christmasinthecity.org, call Kennedy Brothers at 617-542-6611, or stop by their downtown 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 want.
You can do the same at any of the Kennedy Brothers clinics in Cohasset, Braintree, Needham, and Watertown.
If you just want to drop off a check or any kind of present, stop by Lexington Toyota and the inimitable George Gray will run out of his dealership and you won’t even have to stop the car. Or go to the Seaport Hotel, where the valet will pick it up so you don’t even have to park.
What started 26 years ago with just 165 homeless kids has grown exponentially.
“We asked people who attended for feedback, to let us know what they liked and what they didn’t, what could we do better,” Jake Kennedy said. “Most people didn’t talk about the toys they got for their kids. They talked about the way the volunteers treated them, that they were made to feel special.”
The best gift given by Christmas in the City is dignity.
“Absolutely,” says Sharee Gittens. “I remember feeling that way the first year I brought my kids. The volunteers are wonderful.”
Sharee Gittens can’t imagine Christmas without Christmas in the City.
“I don’t think Jake and Sparky even realize what they’ve built over the years,” she said. “It’s like a ministry. It is, within itself, a Christmas gift.”
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com