- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

Chuck Hicks believes in nourishment, not only for the body, but for the soul hearty helpings of joy, laughter and merriment, especially during the holiday season.

Mr. Hicks, a jolly and chatty fellow, has entertained throngs of friends at his annual holiday soirees, held on the first Friday of December, since 1980. His popular holiday events have become a Washington tradition a blazing fireplace, mouthwatering food, laughter and lots of bubbly for all.

From his perspective, he and his friends are blessed.

• • •

The parties took on an added meaning nine years ago, when Mr. Hicks decided to add a few hundred children and their families many living with HIV or AIDS to his Christmas list. He founded Bread for the Soul, a volunteer organization that gives toys and baskets chock-full of food and goodies to families that otherwise would not have a Christmas with all the trimmings.

"It dawned on me that we should do something for others. My friends and I had jobs … so we started asking people to bring toys to the party, which we donated to area orphanages," Mr. Hicks says.

"Then the AIDS crisis evolved, and we started to give toys to children [and parents] with AIDS." "We've primarily focused on the African-American community and other people of color [with HIV or AIDS] living in the metropolitan area because the need is so great."

Two weeks ago, about 150 people, including Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the newly elected head of the D.C. school board, filed through the doors at the historic Stuart K. Mott House on Capitol Hill to nibble on gourmet delicacies, raise a toast and chat.

They braved roadblocks and street detours (near the Supreme Court) to drop off gifts for the children and spread cheer to those who might consider Christmas a day to be endured rather than enjoyed.

"I love hosting the party because we get such wonderful gifts for the kids," says Mr. Hicks, who chairs the Mayor's Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS.

"People don't just grab anything from the shelves. I've found every toy has some symbolic value for the person who bought it. Whether it's a stuffed animal or a life-size baby doll, a firetruck or a great book.

"I've found whenever there's a need, people respond and, of course, when you go out and make a difference, you feel good about what you have done."

That sentiment carries over into all quadrants of the city. Tomorrow, the Coach & IV Restaurant at 2000 14th St. NW (inside the Reeves Building) will host its annual Christmas party. Two years ago, restaurateur Warren Williams asked his patrons to bring a toy to support Bread for the Soul's efforts, Mr. Hicks says.

• • •

Like Santa, Mr. Hicks has his charitable work cut out for him, with 300 wide-eyed children and teens, ranging in age from 1 to 17, eagerly awaiting his arrival each year.

He gets the names of families in need from people and agencies that work directly with those with HIV or AIDS.

The 55-year-old Bogalusa, La., native says the hard work will begin on Saturday, when the goodies will be delivered by volunteers to the needy. He credits the unwavering support of his church, Greater New Hope Baptist in Northwest; his friends; Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and his co-workers at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library for the drive's success each year.

"I've been surrounded by supportive people who believe this is important," Mr. Hicks says.

He's got a list, and he's checking it more than twice to ensure that each child receives three presents. He also makes sure there are ample holiday food baskets with turkeys, chickens, fruit, vegetables, canned goods and sweet-potato pies. There's enough food in the baskets to take care of families throughout the remainder of the year, he says.

Mr. Hicks, who lives in Southwest, has a cadre of friends who have been on board since the inception of Bread for the Soul. Volunteers and additional unwrapped toys are always welcome, he says.

His core team of 15 volunteers has the toy-and-basket process down to a science, but it eases the load to have extra hands, drivers and people to accompany drivers while they make deliveries.

"Some of the places that we visit … people come back and say, 'I just didn't know.' There's something about seeing the joy in children's eyes, knowing that they're getting something for Christmas," Mr. Hicks says.

"It's always nice to buy a family member or a colleague a gift, but I think it's more important to do it for somebody who can't do it for themselves. That's the true spirit of Christmas."

• • •

For those volunteers who want to get a jump on their own holiday shopping and errands on Saturday, Mr. Hicks says that's not a problem. The day of bagging, assembling toys, putting baskets together and delivering them to families gets under way early on Saturday. By midafternoon the deed is done.

New volunteers who want to lend a hand, drop off an unwrapped gift or make a donation should come to the Community United Methodist Church at 1600 Levis Street NE about 8 a.m. Saturday.

"Come out and renew friendship. Or, come on out and make some new friends," Mr. Hicks told guests at his party this year.

Donald Hailes signed on with Bread for the Soul when it was an idea rather than a reality. The two men are co-workers at the King library, on G Street NW.

"When he told me that he wanted to get involved with this, I immediately said it sounds like a great idea," Mr. Hailes says.

"And it brings attention to the problem of HIV/AIDS in Washington… . The numbers are increasing, [specifically] women and children who suffer from AIDS," says Mr. Hailes, who lives in Northeast.

As for Mr. Hicks, well, he finds joy in trying to make a difference.

"This works because people support it and people believe in it. Besides, I'm one of those who believe to those [to whom] much is given, more is expected," he says.

WHAT: Bread for the Soul volunteer toy and holiday basket delivery day

WHERE: Community United Methodist Church, 1600 Levis Street NE, near Hechinger Mall

WHEN: Saturday

TIME: 8 a.m.

PHONE: 202/488-3404

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