The holidays came early for the 150 children who gathered at UFT headquarters on Dec. 10 for the annual holiday party organized by the UFT in concert with the Coalition for the Homeless.
Buses delivered children from shelters across the city to the party site, and as they lined up in the foyer outside Shanker Hall, they peered inside to get a glimpse of the gaily decorated room awaiting them. The first thing the children saw was a beautiful balloon archway at the room’s entrance. With eyes widened, many started to hop around gleefully. Each child received a bag of goodies, including small stuffed animals and snacks, on entering the room; Santa Claus and a wrapped gift awaited each child when the party was over. Schools and UFT members donated about 1,000 toys for the occasion.
“It’s something we do for our kids that goes to the heart of what our union is about,” said UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford, who organized the event. “It’s about service to the community, beyond the four walls of a school building.”
Boys and girls took to the dance floor as a DJ played the latest tunes, but there were also games like bowling and a bean-bag toss, face-painting and Hula Hoops to try out. “Superman” and “Iron Man” made the rounds of the room and posed for selfies with the children. A lunch of children’s favorites — hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers and fruit cups — was served, followed by build-your-own ice cream sundaes. The room, decorated with red and white balloons and a Christmas tree, saw nonstop action as some children zipped from one activity to another, while others played board games or the word games on their placemats; did arts and crafts, including make-and-take picture frames; or took a turn in the UFT photo booth, where they got photographs they could keep as souvenirs.
“To me, this is the most important thing we do,” said Joanne Bullaro, the chapter leader at PS 100 in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and a volunteer at the event. With the number of homeless children in city public schools at a record high, Bullaro pointed out that the holiday party provides “a place for kids to dance, smile and play games for a while. If we do that, we’re doing important work.”
For Emmanuel, just about to turn 15, the DJ kept the room — and him — moving. “I was dancing. It was super fun,” he said.
Sharifa, 12, summed up the general feeling: “I liked everything about it,” she said.