By Karen Pearlman
Photos courtesy of Shane Harris
December 28, 2021 (San Diego) -- Hundreds of kids who might have spent Christmas day feeling sad, neglected or lonely were instead uplifted with love, food, lots of wrapped presents and tons of snow imported into southeastern San Diego.
More than 500 people, most of them foster kids, homeless youths and struggling families in San Diego County, spent part of the morning on Christmas Day at the National Black Contractors Association on Imperial Avenue feeling connected.
The event was the annual Shane Harris Community Christmas Day Breakfast and Gift Giveaway, organized by local civil rights champion Shane Harris. Gifts given away included more than 70 free laptops, Chromebooks and tablets.
“So many partners came together to make it happen for kids and families who wouldn’t have had a Christmas otherwise,” Harris said.
Harris is founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, and knows the plight of those who have heartache on Christmas Day. Harris grew up in foster care in San Diego County and has bittersweet memories of holidays that often left him feeling like an outsider.
“I spent most of my childhood in foster care placement after the loss of my parents,” Harris recalled. “It seemed like every year, I couldn’t get any footing. I saw kids around Christmastime looking happy and it hurt my heart. I thought of my parents and the things I didn’t have access to, the situation I was in.”
Sponsors of the event included Soapy Joe’s Car Wash, local attorney King Aminpour, the San Diego County Office of Equity and Racial Justice, the county tax assessors’ office, San Diego Lifesaving Association, Jacobs Center of Neighborhood Innovation and Starbucks.
The contractors association building was decorated into a “winter wonderland” while a local disc jockey entertained the crowd with a mix of holiday, hip hop and soul music, Harris said. It created a special feel for kids who came from Chula Vista to the south, El Cajon to the east, Vista to the north and everywhere in between.
“So many kids and youth across San Diego County did actually get the Christmas they rightfully deserve,” Harris said. “It brought disconnected people in the community together, people from all different races, religions and belief systems.”
The event, in its fifth year, also honored two individuals as the event’s official “Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.”
Harris, the San Diego Monitor newspaper and the event committee named community philanthropists Dr. William Tayari Howard as the event’s official Santa and Dr. LaWana Richmond as Mrs. Claus.
Howard is a longtime local radio personality, author and public speaker. A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, he also serves organizations including Wreaths Across America and The Salvation Army. His book “Radioactive” is set to be published next year.
Richmond is U.C. San Diego’s business development manager in the transportation, parking and people movement department at the university. She is on the advisory board for the Cay Montgomery Technology Fund, which supports community access to technology at the Malcolm X Library.
Jordan Marks from the county’s tax assessor’s office said he was proud that the county pitched in to help the community do “a little extra to help out.”
“It’s pretty unique to have an event on Christmas morning for the kids,” Marks said. “I told Shane that we assess houses for a living, but it’s events like this that create homes. A home is a warm place to celebrate the holidays. Seeing the video with the smiles on the faces of the kids, it shows that this event is something special.”