As children and parents lined up for plates of chicken, vegetables, and rice at a Christmas gift giveaway, Isaura Mendes joyfully yelled out, “This is their party! Let the kids eat!”
Mendes, 66, a longtime peace advocate, is in her 18th year of hosting the holiday party for young children and her fourth year of holding the event in the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Upham’s Corner.
Adorned with a headband with two purple fuzzy balls bouncing atop her head, Mendes teared up as she watched the couple dozen children playing and running around the tables covered with tableclothes and decorated with green and purple balloons. Two of her own children were murdered — her son Bobby was stabbed to death in 1995, when he was 23, and Matthew was fatally shot 11 years later.
“I think it’s very special,” Mendes said of the gift giveaway. “We need to show the children love.”
Toys for Tots partnered with Mendes’s group, The Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy, to donate 200 toys for the 160 childen — ranging from infants to 10-year-olds — who were registered for the event. The gifts were wrapped in festive paper, each with card attached, reading, “God Bless Each One of Us” and encouraging children to remember the power of forgiveness and love.
“We want them to know each other,” Mendes said, “so they don’t have to grow up and fight each other.”Martha Schick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarthaSchick.