ASHTABULA — Children won’t get a chance to belt out Christmas tunes from the G.O. Development Corp. stage this year, but presents will be under the tree.
“I am so blessed. It is very helpful,” said Jessica Thompson as she picked presents for her children on Friday morning at the Station Avenue center.
She said the kids were a little upset they weren’t going to be able to gather with everyone and meet Santa Claus, but she explained the situation and how the pandemic has changed so much.
Volunteers and staff at G.O. Development have been working on the Christmas program since October, said director Francis Norman.
“These are my elves,” Norman said of Carol Hunter and Debbie Hill, who have been working five days a week since October to get the presents ready for the children.
Norman said the pair wrapped an estimated 1,000 gifts and were still working on some on Friday morning. She said the gifts were donated by a many people and churches.
“[The donors] just did it. The community has been so generous,” she said.Norman said there is a “Secret Santa” who bought three car loads of gifts for children.
“I don’t even know her name,” Norman said. The lengthy planning helped make the four-day event a little less chaotic than having 500-600 people in a gymnasium, Norman said. She said Friday marked the beginning of gift pick-up.
“We are doing [appointments] every 10 minutes,” she said.More than 425 children are scheduled to receive gifts by Tuesday evening, Norman said.
She said the pick up system allows fewer people to have personal contact during the pandemic.
Each child is scheduled to receive two to three gifts, a candy bag and the family will get a bag of groceries, Norman said. She said hats and gloves were also a part of the process.
“It’s different,” Norman said of the process. She said it was running smoothly on Friday morning.
“It is nice to have the kids party but this is easier and faster,” Norman said.
A large number of families are scheduled for gift pick-up today. She said several Youth Opportunity workers will be on hand today to assist in taking the food and groceries to the car.
Brittany Chambers volunteered her time on Saturday morning along with Olajuwon Smith who also created a computer spread sheet to help organize the recipients.
Chambers said she volunteers in memory of her mother Valerie Chambers who assisted G.O. Development Corp.
“When she passed, we kept it [going],” Chambers said.
ASHTABULA — Children ran to the stage of G.O. Development Corp. on Saturday afternoon to try their dance steps and celebrate the Christmas season.
The 24th edition of the event included more than 430 children, said G.O. Development Corp. Board President Drew Thomas.
“We had 437 kids signed up,” he said.“They all will go home with three presents and the family with a garbage bag filled with groceries,” Thomas said before receiving a gift from the board for all his work.
“A lot of this would not be possible without Drew Thomas and his family,” said organization co-founder John Salters before making the presentation.Hundreds of people ate a free lunch, sang with the music led by Isaiah Salters and talked with friends.
Isaiah Salters got the party rolling with music and games keeping the children active and interested. He credited the children for the break dancing.“They did a great job,” he said.
Another group of children had the opportunity to create a Christmas dance to perform with a song. He had the crowd pick the winner, but gave prizes to all of the contestants.John Salters said there were 50 to 60 volunteers that made the party a reality. The parking lot at the facility was packed during the height of the party.
The area in front of the gym’s stage was the place to be as children tried to get as close to the performers as possible with parents not far behind.
Santa also spent several hours taking pictures with children at the event that is the highlight of many area families’ Christmas experience.
ASHTABULA — John Salters called 10 children to the front of the GO Community Development Corp. gymnasium and the number quickly doubled.
Salters, founder of G.O. Ministries which has grown into the new title, fired up the children by singing a loud rendition of “Jingle Bells” on Saturday afternoon at the organization’s headquarters on Station Avenue.
“I love Jesus, yes I do, I love Jesus how about you,” quickly echoed through the recently renovated gymnasium. Salters also got the parents and other children into the act by responding to the chant.
An estimated 400 children attended the event and received Christmas gifts, said GOCDC President Drew Thomas. He said a total of 600 people were expected for the party which was centered in the gymnasium, but also included the cafeteria where people were fed to start off the 22nd edition of the event.
“Each child will get at least three presents,” Thomas said of the gifts that were donated or purchased by the organization.
“We bought a lot of the presents. Good quality presents,” Thomas said of the Tonka trucks, dolls and Legos the children were able to take home.
The families were served in the cafeteria and moved into the gymnasium that was decorated for the Christmas party and freshly renovated with new LED lights thanks to the efforts of the Herzog Family Foundation. Thomas said a plaque was presented during the party to commemorate the group’s efforts.
Thomas said Cristal employees repainted many of the rooms and prepared one for a new purpose and the Ashtabula Foundation provided funds for a new oven.
The organization is active throughout the year feeding families and providing opportunities for recreation and education. “We’ve served over 13,000 meals at our soup kitchen this year,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the organization has also brought Birthcare into the building to distribute baby supplies for young families in need. “We are trying to get as many organizations to join us at the building,” he said.
A multiple-piece band led the music keeping hands clapping and toes tapping throughout the gymnasium.
“This is our third year coming. The children enjoy all the festivities,” said Gina Withrow of Conneaut.
Nikki Dondrea, of Ashtabula, said the party was her family’s first, but probably not the last. “They cater to the children,” she said.
The tradition will continue, an annual event started by the late Mae Salters. A free Thanksgiving dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 23 at G.O. Community Development Corporation.
The menu will include turkey, ham, yams, stuffing, greens, green beans, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, macaroni salad and desserts.
Donations for the dinner are welcome.
Anyone looking to volunteer will need to report at 07:00am. We will also be giving out free winter apparel including coats,gloves,boots etc.
Anyone who is looking to donate winter apparel can drop it off Monday-Friday from 10:00am-6:00pm or call at (440)997-0040 and ask to speak with Jewel Bradley or Frances Norman.
To RSVP call G.O. Community Development Corporation at 440-997-0040. RSVP is not required, but appreciated. Everyone is welcome.