A pair of events that are scheduled back-to-back on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are not only intended to help spread Yuletide cheer and brighten the holiday season for those in need, but also to give back to the community and honor the legacies of two local residents who spent their lives serving others.
Meet Me at the Court
Presented by Meet Me at the Court and the Bailey Family, Christmas on the Court is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Hudson Place Apartments, 301 Hudson St.
For the second consecutive year, the event is being presented in a different format.
The program is centered around Christmas on the Court, an event that is filled with a day's worth of activities, including food, entertainment, photos with Santa, a chili cook-off, food and toy drives, games, gift giveaways and decorating the Sharion Bailey Whitlock Angel Tree to donate to a local family.
Christmas on the Court had taken place each year on the basketball court in the area of Ouachita and Lester streets in the St. Louis neighborhood, where organizer Veronica Bailey grew up.
Also, as a part of the Angel Tree project, organizers accepted submissions with names and wish lists for gifts that would be delivered to senior citizens and families with children who were selected as recipients for the year.
In 2020, organizers canceled Christmas on the Court activities and decided to mail gift cards to recipients in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This year, Christmas on the Court will be moved to Hudson Place Apartments to serve children and families in the area.
Bailey said the change will be permanent and will allow the opportunity to help more people in El Dorado.
"Each year, we'll adopt a certain area to share Sharion's Angel Tree. That's the way we're going to do it now," Bailey explained.
Christmas on the Court and the Sharion Bailey Whitlock Angel Tree are two of several annual events that are hosted by the Bailey Family and Meet Me at the Court to honor Whitlock, who died in 2012 following an illness.
Bailey, Whitlock's sister, said Bailey's son, James Curley, came up with the idea of adopting areas and bringing Christmas on the Court to residents around the city.
"He said that way, we can spread out and it gives us a chance to go to certain areas that we haven't been to and to children who haven't had the chance to be on the Sharion Bailey Whitlock Angel Tree and give them a chance to be included," Bailey said. "That's what we want to do with Sharion's Angel Tree."
Bailey said activities on Friday will be held near the office of the Hudson Place apartment complex.
She said two Santa Clauses will hand out toys, bicycles and other presents to children and families will receive a ham, turkey or rotisserie chicken.
The Meet Me at the Court youth members will also conduct their monthly mission project by distributing canned goods to families.
"By doing it this way, we will able to share with the youth, each child, all the children of that complex," Bailey said.
She said volunteers have already decorated the Sharion Bailey Whitlock Angel Tree and donated it to a local family.
Just as Meet Me at the Court and the Bailey Family honor Whitlock's legacy of helping others and giving back to the community, Orlando Reed Jr. is launching an event to do the same for his late father.
A Christmas Celebration: Finding Our Way Together, will be held from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Mattocks Park, Detroit and Sharp streets.
The event is free and open to the public.
Reed said the day will include a free Christmas dinner and giveaways, with toys, clothing/shoes, toiletries and groceries.
A few vendors will also be on-site, a booth will be available to take photos with Santa and the Union County Animal Protection Society have an area set up for anyone who is interested in adopting a pet.
Reed said A Christmas Celebration will commemorate the life, legacy and works of his father, Orlando Reed Sr., who passed away Sept. 11 after suffering a heart attack. He was 61.
Reed Jr. said the event is an extension of the life lessons that his father instilled in him -- lessons he has carried with him since childhood.
From his earliest memories, Reed. Jr. said his father stressed the importance of giving back.
"He would get us up in the morning to rake elderly people's yards. We would rake leaves, clean up their yards and clean up their houses," Reed Jr. recalled.
"He would take them back and forth to their doctor's appointments. He visited nursing homes and hospitals and he would take us to pray with them," he continued. "My dad was always about the community, doing what's best for the community."
It was Reed Sr. and friend Frank Mitchell who started the Christmas Day community dinner 16 years ago in the Fellowship Hall of St. John Baptist Missionary Baptist Church.
The feeding was eventually moved to The Fairview Community Development Association building, which is next to the church on Wilson Street.
The free dinner draws scores of people each year.
With his father's sudden passing, Reed Jr. said it only made sense for him to take the reins of the annual event.
He posted the idea to Facebook on Oct. 15 and received an overwhelming response from the community.
"Everybody was excited. They knew my dad did it and they thought it was very honorable of me to keep it going," Reed Jr. said.
He put the call out for donations and they began rolling in, some from as far away as Jonesboro.
Coincidentally, Reed Jr. also said that he has received requests for help from a Jonesboro resident who said she was homeless and had heard about the event in Mattocks Park.
The theme of the celebration is also intended to help those who have lost loved ones.
"I know the loss of my father has been a lot for me, as well as other people who have lost loved ones and this is just to let everyone know we're all in this together," Reed Jr. explained.
"My father was about unity in the community and we're bringing people together," he continued. "It's about, loving on each other, helping each other, lifting each other up and cutting through all the division. There are so many things that divide us -- mentally, racially. There's just too much division going on."
At 2 p.m., several guest speakers, including Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer, will address the crowd with talks that express the theme of the event.
Reed Jr. encouraged families who have lost loved ones to wear T-shirts and other memorabilia and to bring balloons for a balloon release that will be held in memory of those who have been lost.
Reed Jr. said organizers are still accepting donations for the food, clothing and toy drives. Donations, including new or gently worn clothing, may be dropped off from noon until 6 p.m. at 5611 N. West Ave. or from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. at 602 S. Martin Luther King.
Volunteers are also needed to serve on various committees to help cook and serve food, set up and clean up and distribute toys, food and clothes.
Monetary donations may be sent to $oreedsrfoundation. Also, visit Reed Jr.'s Facebook page.
"I'm just picking up the torch and keeping my father's legacy going and taking it to the heights where he wanted to take it, where it should go," Reed Jr. said. "It's just the beginning."
He said there is more to come from the Orlando D. Reed Sr. Foundation, whose focus is community service.
A chili-cookoff is planned for Jan. 16 to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which is presented by the Self Culture Club.
The cook-off will be held in the parking of the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, 100 W. Eighth. Contestants are asked to cook two pots of chili and the event will include samples that will be sold to the public.
Crackers will be provided for free.
For more information, contact Reed Jr.