Jennifer Hudson, sister answer tragedy with massive toy giveaway
By Ellen Jean Hirst
CHICAGO -- For the fourth Christmas Eve since her son's murder, Julia Hudson along with her sister, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, tried to create something positive out of her family's tragedy.
The Hudson sisters and volunteers gave Christmas gifts to thousands of youngsters Monday through a toy drive organized by the foundation Julia Hudson started to honor her son, the Julian D. King Gift Foundation.
"It's a blessing to be able to give back to where you came from," Jennifer Hudson said. "To turn something so sad into such a blessing."
In October 2008, 7-year-old Julian King, along with the Hudson's sisters' mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother, Jason Hudson, were shot and killed. William Balfour, Julia Hudson's ex-husband, was convicted of the murders and sentenced in July to three life sentences.
Julia Hudson subsequently started the foundation and toy giveaway "to kind of help us heal," she said Monday.
She and her sister greeted thousands of children who came to the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in the South Side West Pullman neighborhood for a little Christmas cheer.
"The best part is just seeing the happy faces of the kiddies," Jennifer Hudson said.
A line started forming at 3 a.m. and eventually stretched into the community center's parking lot, where families stood bundled in the cold. The families, some with tiny babies, were ushered into waiting rooms where they sat, in some cases for hours, before making it to a room where each child chose one toy, then were given a board game and either a teddy bear or a ball.
"That part is a bonus, because they were only expecting one toy," volunteer Darius Monroe said.
Atahjionna Bishop, 9, who came to the toy drive with her mother, two sisters and several cousins, got a new pink and white bike. "It doesn't have training wheels," she said.
Her older sister picked out a bracelet-making kit. "It feels good, because half the time you want (a toy), you can't get it," said Alarrionna Atwood, 11.
Their mother, Tarlyn Waters, said the toy drive was especially appreciated this year, because she and her family had just endured the expense of moving to a new home. "It was a struggle to get them everything they wanted," Waters said. "So it really helped."
In the toy room, Zion McKinnie, 9, started to cry when a gift she had her eye on was chosen by another girl. Julia Hudson asked her what she would want if she could have anything for Christmas.
Zion said she wanted a tablet. Julia Hudson, without taking a moment to think about it, had someone grab her tablet and then gave it to the little girl.
"I'm going to have her sign the back," Zion said excitedly. Her mother, Onjel McKinnie, Zion's mom, made it clear she would have to share with her sister. Zion was fine with that.
Organizers said the toy drive had 50,000 toys to give away this year, the most ever. WGN-TV, which like the Chicago Tribune, is owned by the Tribune Co., collected more than 30,000 toys for the giveaway.