Spreading December cheer: Durham Children’s Initiative reimagines “Holiday Zone”

Spreading holiday cheer, volunteer Avery Bryant helps out during the Durham Children’s Zone seventh annual “Holiday Zone,” on Dec. 12 at the DCI’s headquarter at Angier Ave. Durham VOICE Teen Editor-in-Chief Khadijah McFadden, who made this photograph, visually chronicles the day of joy in a photo essay accompanying this story by DCI intern Madison Reese.

Story by Madison Reese

DCI Intern 

The Durham VOICE

Photos by Khadijah McFadden

Teen Editor-in-Chief

DCI staff and volunteers were hands-on when it came time to help shop for Durham families in need. Darryl “Mr. Darryl” Barnes, a longtime DCI family advocate, shops at the WalMart (which also donates to Holiday Zone) off of Glenn School Road along with Cameron Greene, a volunteer from the local app development company WillowTree, based in the Golden Belt complex. Shoppers filled about a dozen carts with toys and items which were then loaded onto a U-Haul truck to bring back to the Angier Ave. office. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

Durham Children’s Initiative (DCI) created “Holiday Zone” seven years ago to provide Christmas gifts for Durham families who need them. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, the traditional way Holiday Zone is executed had to change.

The Holiday Zone drive always starts with the annual collection of gifts by DCI from a diverse group of community volunteers. They filled carts up with loads of toys and other items for youth ages, infants-17.

Upon return from WalMart, DCI staff like Arssante Malone (left) and Dawn Bowes (right) began unloading the truck and filling the office rooms with toys. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

After shopping, DCI staff trucked back to their main office (21010 Angier Ave.) with thousands of items to add to the thousands donated by volunteers. This year, however, DCI, with the help of staff, had parents and guardians go online, via Zoom or Facetime, to pick out gifts that they would want to receive. Gifts were then packaged into bags with the names of the families on them that had asked for those specific toys for pick-up later.

On Sat., Dec. 12, staff, community volunteers and families (masked-up and socially distanced) all took time out of their day to visit the “Holiday Zone” at the DCI office and pick up their children’s gifts and other goodies like holiday themed face masks and puzzles. 

This year’s Holiday Zone proves that when a community comes together, in the spirit of the holidays even during a pandemic, good things in Durham can still take place. 

The toy rooms were almost filled to the brim with very little walking room. Each room was separated by age groups, newborn to 5-years-old, 6-11 and 12-17. At least once a week the rooms would be restocked as inventory went out the door. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
DCI staff used technology like Zoom and the FaceTime app to “meet” with guardians and older siblings who would shop for the children in their families. Staff then walked around with their devices showing the contents of the rooms to shoppers and then pick out and set aside the items they chose. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Once a family had their items chosen, the selections were set aside in these bright pink bags. Each bag was labeled with the guardian’s name, their phone number, the number of children in the family and their expected pick-up time on the big day. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Bright and early on Sat., Dec. 12, instead of typically decking the halls of the office, DCI staff and volunteers decorated the parking lot of the Angier Avenue office and prepared for the drive-through Holiday Zone. Upon entering the “holiday zone,” families would stop by this first table, operated by DCI PICE team manager Rebecca Billings to make sure their names were on the list and to pick up some holiday goodies like puzzles and masks. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Vehicles began lining up at 8:30 a.m. for their items and kept arriving into the early evening. To reduce the number of hands touching toys, DCI volunteers donated wrapping kits complete with gift wrap, tape and scissors to assist with wrapping gifts. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Even the City of Durham got in on the holiday festivities. This team from Neighborhood Improvement Services set up shop giving out tote bags and keeping the atmosphere light with music. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Kids also volunteered their time at Holiday Zone. Here young Avery Bryant, who volunteered with her parents, Brandon and Delicia, places a virtual shoppers bag into the trunk of their vehicle. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Holiday Zone isn’t just about giving gifts to other families. It’s also about spending quality time with your own. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Holiday Zone could never be what it is without the numerous volunteers, like these from Creekside Cares in Durham, helping to make the season magical for so many Durham kids. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)