Secret Santa at Harlem YMCA Brings Cheer and Gifts to 32 Families

By Jeff Mays on December 21, 2011 8:13am 

Harlem YMCA Executive director Tffeny Forrest (back row) delivered presents to Taisheba Smith and her young family of three kids along with Karen Sprauer, site director of the YMCA's afterschool program at P.S. 57
Harlem YMCA Executive director Tffeny Forrest (back row) delivered presents to Taisheba Smith and her young family of three kids along with Karen Sprauer, site director of the YMCA's afterschool program at P.S. 57
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — The past couple of Christmases haven't been good for Taisheba Smith and her young family.

She has had to deal with the struggle of not being able to find a decent job and then a bout of depression. And with the birth of 17-month-old Zoe and two-month-old Miko, she hasn't been able to give her oldest son Xavier, 8, as much attention as she used to.

So when Xavier gave her his Christmas list — including requests for a Nintendo 3DS and Sketcher sneakers with lights — and she didn't have the money to fulfill it, Smith wasn't sure what to do.

But then the Harlem YMCA, where Xavier attends afterschool programs, told her about its Angel Giving Tree initiative. With the help of corporate supporters and individual donors, the Harlem YMCA delivered hundreds of gifts Tuesday to 32 families who might have otherwise gone without.

The total was more than double the 15 families who received gifts last year.

"It means so much. Xavier is going to be like 'Where did all these gifts come from?'" Smith said, after Harlem YMCA Executive Director Tiffeny Forrest delivered a bag full of presents to her apartment at Taft Houses.

In addition to the 32 Harlem families that will be receiving gifts, more than 400 kids in the YMCA's afterschool programs will receive a present.

"The need was already so great, but now we are seeing an even greater need," said Forrest. "We are seeing people now who were never in need of services in the past."

To raise the $230,000 needed to make the gift-giving a reality, major corporations such as Coca-Cola, the Colgate-Palmolive Company, the local Fred E. Samuel Democratic Club and members of the Harlem YMCA and its staff chipped in.

"We are the face, but there are a lot of people behind making this happen," said Forrest, who launched the initiative when she arrived in Harlem from Michigan four years ago. "We knew if we got the word out people would step up, and they did."

The gifts are delivered already-wrapped and with an Angel Giving Tree tag that parents have the option of removing so that they can present the gift to their child.

"We have a lot of parents who are busting their butts and making the right choices for their families but may not be able to provide gifts because of their economic circumstances," Forrest said.

Karen Sprauer, site director of the YMCA's afterschool program at P.S. 57 said delivering gifts to Xavier was especially satisfying. The boy has a sweet disposition and is always writing notes to his camp counselors.

He even wanted to use the little bit of money he had saved this year to buy his mother a present.

"Xavier is so appreciative of everything we do. You can tell he was raised with strong values," said Sprauer.

"He already understands the essence of Christmas at such a young age, so we want him to feel special like any other kid and come back to school chatting about what he received this year," said Forrest.

As she arranged the gifts under her tree, Smith said she couldn't wait to see the look on Xavier's face when he arrived home from school.

"Last Christmas was not a good Christmas but I'm so happy this year," said Smith, beaming. "This Christmas is going to be all about Xavier."

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