Intelligencer Journal , Lancaster New Era
Dec 24, 2009
By DAVID O'CONNOR, Staff Writer
Someone gave Shirley Rhoades the standard "Merry Christmas" as she was leaving a Lancaster church late Wednesday afternoon.
"It will be now," the Lancaster woman said, holding several gift-wrapped toys for her grandchildren, who are age 3, 4 and 9.
Across the room inside St. Paul's Church of God and Christ — a room that's usually a Sunday school classroom but this day looked a bit like Santa's Toyland — was a brightly smiling Maria Fratello of Lancaster.
"This is such a blessing," she said, speaking for herself and other parents who received gifts for their children. "It's nice that they have something like this where they give back to the community. … Sharing is caring," she said, thankful for the gifts for daughters Shaniya, 9, and Cheyanne, 5.
One hundred families were on the receiving end of a first-ever Christmas gift giveaway organized for those in need by a Lancaster-based youth development and sports organization.
"I just want to give back to the kids," said Jerry Johnson, the former McCaskey High basketball star who is the founder of the Back 2 Basics Foundation, which held Wednesday's gift distribution at the church, 215 S. Queen St.
As families entered and made their way to the already wrapped toys, which were separated into various age categories, Johnson watched and smiled.
"I was younger once," he said. "I grew up in the city, and I remember the people who helped me."
Johnson, now 27, graduated from Rider University after his standout McCaskey career and is now playing in Belgium. He's heading back to Europe, in fact, the day after Christmas and has a game coming up on Wednesday.
But first, Johnson and a dozen or so "elves," or volunteers, wanted to make Christmas brighter for the 100 families, whose children ranged from less than a year old on up.
Johnson, who envisions his B2B Foundation becoming a key in steering young Lancaster-area lives in a positive direction, hopes to have the toy giveaway again next year.
"I don't want this to be a one-time thing. We're here to help, like people were for me," he said.
He said Wednesday's effort required a lot of help from sponsors such as Target to donors ranging from friends to members of his team in Belgium, Spirou Basket Charleroi.
Johnson's helpers included his dad, Jerry Sr., and Collins Gantz of Lancaster.
"We're trying to keep it in the community," Gantz said, a big smile on his face as three small children receiving gifts walked by.
Also helping was Michael Grimm, who graduated from McCaskey in 2003, three years after Johnson.
"I want to do anything I can to help Jerry Johnson. … He's a good guy for the community. He grew up in this area, and he wants to give back to the community that gave to him," Grimm said with a smile.
He pointed to those receiving gifts and said, "That's why this is so cool … 100 families being helped."
Volunteer Tameeka Way, of York, said, "It feels good to help others who have a need … it's good to give, especially right now with the recession."
A small Christmas tree sat on a table; red, green and white balloons brightened the room; and Christmas songs such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" played.
One recipient, a lady who just gave her first name, Hope, and lives in Lancaster, said the toy giveaway "helps a lot.
… I'm a mom with three kids," age 10, 5 and 10 months, she said.
Johnson started the B2B Foundation last year. He's the president, and his former basketball coach at McCaskey, Steve Powell, is a vice president.
For details on Johnson and his B2B foundation, visit www.back2basicsfoundation.org or call 888-832-0034.
"If I was able to succeed both as a student and an athlete, there is absolutely no reason why more youth in our cities and surrounding neighborhoods cannot be successful, but it all starts from a young age," the B2B Web page states.