EDCI helps make the holiday season bright


The holiday season has officially begun at East Durham Children’s Initiative.

EDCI staff members Jill Ullman, Cate Elander, Denice Johnson, Mary Mathew and Amber Wade assist families with check-in at last year’s Holiday Zone (Photo courtesy of EDCI).

EDCI staff members (left to right, front to back) Mary Mathew, Amber Wade, Jill Ullman, Cate Elander and Denice Johnson assist families with check-in at last year’s Holiday Zone. (Photo courtesy of EDCI).

They’re busy planning the second annual Holiday Zone – an event guaranteed to make many children in the community smile.

This year, EDCI invited over 150 parents to come choose complimentary gifts for their children. Gifts are donated by local individuals and organizations, and include a variety of toys and books for children under 12 years old. The event is hosted on Saturday, Dec. 14, at EDCI’s office at 107 N. Driver St.

The event relies on toy, book and monetary donations from local organizations and individuals. EDCI plans to allow parents to choose up to three toys and one book per child.

“We hold the event a couple of weeks before Christmas so that folks in the community can come by and select gifts for their children,” says Samantha Cole, EDCI’s communications coordinator. “It’s a really great event to have on that day because it allows parents who might not know each other to get together and develop new relationships.”

Once parents receive an invitation, they can call EDCI to register and schedule a time to shop. EDCI has reached out to more than 150 families this year – a considerable increase from last year’s crowd.

“It was wonderful last year,” says Cate Elander, EDCI’s manager of community engagement. “About 100 families came and participated in the event. It was really festive. A lot of our partners came and volunteered at the event to be personal shoppers for the families.”

Elander says the event relies heavily on the generosity of individuals in the community. Additionally, several local organizations have made large monetary donations that will allow EDCI to purchase additional toys. Key donors include the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, Capitol Broadcasting Company, PNC Bank and Research Presentation Strategies.

“It’s definitely a team effort sourcing the toys,” says Elander. “There are a lot of monetary, toy and book donations from across the Durham community. Last year, each family could pick out two or three toys and a book for each of their children.”

As the event approaches, EDCI hopes to receive as many donations as possible. Durham resident Kristina Fondren says she and her neighbors plan to donate this year.

A Playworks volunteer and two mothers search for the perfect gift at last year’s Holiday Zone (Photo courtesy of EDCI).

A Playworks volunteer, left, helps two mothers search for the perfect gift at last year’s Holiday Zone. (Photo courtesy of EDCI).

“I’m donating because I think it’s important for all parents to be able to give their children Christmas gifts,” she says. “It makes things more personal and that’s important during the holidays.”

Although the event allows parents to choose gifts for their children, it’s also designed to build a sense of community.

“The Holiday Zone is an event that empowers the community to get together during the holiday season,” says Cole. “It’s not simply about parents collecting gifts or books for their own families. It’s about building a larger community in East Durham.”

Additionally, it’s a way to thank families in the community for their participation in EDCI events.

“I think we can’t take for granted the families that participate in our different programs and initiatives,” says Elander. “This is a way for us to say thank you for their participation with EDCI and in their children’s educational outcomes. It’s a fun opportunity to say thank you for the efforts that parents make for their kids all year long.”

For more information, or to learn about making a donation, contact EDCI’s Jill Ullman at 919-908-8709, ext. 103.

Staff Writer for the Durham VOICE