Fort Worth

Fort Worth women refuse to let Christmas be unhappy for children from struggling families

It doesn’t take countless meetings or fancy fundraising campaigns to create happiness and show love during the Christmas season.

Just ask Caroline Chance and Brenda Coleman, who with friends and small community groups have put on an annual Christmas party for 15 years for Fort Worth kids who really need a lift.

This year, the Charity Christmas Banquet for underprivileged families took place Saturday afternoon at the Intermodal Transportation Center downtown.

Coleman’s Unity Charity and Social Club and Chance’s Lady Jags worked with The Salvation Army and Butler Place Apartments, a public housing complex, to identify the most needy children.

The party always consists of a banquet, gift and toy giveaway, games, entertainment and carol-singing. This year they added a Christmas play to the festivities.

“When we first started, we had 13 children from The Salvation Army” on East Lancaster Avenue, Chance said. “Last year we had 105.”

The group started with 70 registered children this year and had their first names, ages and genders to use for shopping purposes. But they bought for many more because they won’t turn any child away.

“If we have 100 kids signed up, we usually have 150 show up for the party,” said Coleman. “Somebody always has a little cousin that’s spending the night, or friends who come along.”

Each child signed up received three gifts. Men’s community groups such as The Dappers help with larger items like bikes.

The women have their supporters.

“They’re a really good group,” said Debra Bullock of The Salvation Army’s J.E. and L.E. Mabee Social Services Center, at 1855 E. Lancaster Ave. “They’re very charitable and active in the community, and they like to give back.”

The Lady Jags — named for Chance’s favorite football team, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars — and Unity have helped struggling families with events at Christmas, Easter and before school starts in the fall. They have also worked with homeless clients from Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County.

The money to buy gifts and put on the Christmas event comes from ticket sales, Coleman said. “We pre-sold tickets for the events, letting people know the tickets were for purchasing items for the children.”

Other clubs, businesses and agencies have helped by buying tickets, donating food and gifts or volunteering.

Coleman’s employer, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, donated the space for the Christmas party, as well as transportation for the attending families.

“We get our community and local social organizations involved,” said Coleman, adding that in earlier years she and Chance sometimes had to go at it pretty much alone. Their own clubs rarely have more than 15 members at a time, and sometimes only five or six.

“We’re working paycheck to paycheck ourselves, and we raise our money for this by doing carwashes, holding raffles and the like,” Coleman said.

Each year, her group also adopts a family that has just completed self-sufficiency training from agencies like The Salvation Army. The group provides advice and emotional support as the parents learn to take care of basic living expenses, and they help give the children “extras.” That could include money for school haircuts, field trips, club dues, event tickets and supplies for class projects.

“I was a single parent, and it breaks your heart to not be able to let your kid be a kid,” said Coleman. “I know, because it broke mine.”