Charlie Reid Christmas draws huge Richmond crowd
on December 19, 2011
More than an hour before the doors would open, hundreds of children and parents were lined up in the cool Sunday morning air on 23rd Street.
Volunteers were busy unloading trucks full of Christmas gifts.
And Ivy Reid-Lewis was reminiscing.
“Those early years in North Richmond, the line would be all down the street with people waiting to come into that little clubhouse for the Christmas party,” said Reid-Lewis. “My dad loved Christmas.”
A few hours later, Christmas was a little brighter for Richmond families.
More than 1,000 parents and children came to the Richmond PAL Center Sunday for a the 64th Annual Charles Reid Christmas Party, a community tradition begun in 1947 and carried on today by the Charles Reid Foundation and a handful of sponsors.
Those who attended Sunday’s event received toys, including dozens of new or barely-used bicycles, and got to spend a few precious moments with Santa Claus in the sprawling PAL Center gymnasium.
One of those who donned the Santa suit was Mike Merriweather, 51, a former NFL linebacker who has made a routine of visiting Richmond every year for the party.
“I know a lot of people opened doors for me in my life,” Merriweather said. “I just like to come out here to Richmond, see these kids, and try to give some back, to pay it forward.”
Images of the event’s legacy abounded. Several old newspaper articles and historic photos documenting the life of Charlie Reid and the early Christmas parties were prominently displayed.
Reid, a famed baseball pitcher who played for Negro league teams in the Bay Area – baseball was still segregated before World War II – launched the Christmas party in 1947. As then-49-year-old director of Shields Park in North Richmond, Reid wanted an annual event to bring the city’s burgeoning and youthful population together every Christmas. Reid loved to play Santa.
“My father was always a big advocate for children,” said Reid-Lewis, 80, the last surviving child of Charlie Reid and his wife. “He helped get a lot of kids in college over the years through sports.”
Reid died in 1979. He was 82.
Sunday’s event was made possible by the foundation, the PAL center, and an assortment of individual, public and corporate donors, including Chevron Corp., the California Highway Patrol and Mechanics Bank.
Many of the volunteers were part of Reid’s large extended family, another legacy he left the city.
“I actually lost a little of my belief in Santa because of this event,” chuckled Garron Cooper, 24, a great-grandson of Reid’s who volunteered Sunday. “I was sitting on Santa’s lap when I was like 8 years old, and I looked real close at Santa’s face, and I was like, ‘Hey, that’s my cousin.’”
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