The 2020 Fatima Family Center Toyland-Joyland

LaJean Ray Fatima Director

By S. Alease Ferguson

Fatima’s Toyland-Joyland

Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood is a diverse and multicultural community where people celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Día de Los Reyes, or plain ole Winter Break.

Each December, the Fatima Family Center teams up with its neighborhood partners at Cleveland UMADAOP, Lexington-Bell, and St. Agnes Our Lady of Fatima Church to make sure that children and seniors living in the neighborhood have an enjoyable holiday season.

This year the Fatima Family Center is exceptionally grateful to Morgan Stanley for its $20,000 donation to Toyland-Joyland.  Fatima also extends a hearty thanks to its other 2020 Toyland-Joyland sponsors that include John Carroll University, Gilmour Academy, Holy Angels, Sherwin Williams, St. Marks, Knights of Columbus, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Ohio Retired Teachers Organization. Their collective support made this year’s Toyland-Joyland a resounding success.

Now & Then: A Changing Tradition

Volunteers enjoying their work.

Since the 1980’s it has been a Hough community tradition for families to gather at the Fatima Center one week before Christmas. Historically the Fatima Center and its gymnasium have been transformed into a winter wonderland overflowing with gifts donated by local parishes, fraternities and sororities, professional associations, and schools and universities. The event’s guests have included parents and grandparents served by Fatima and neighboring community services agencies. The guests would select an assortment of gifts for their children. Program volunteers would assist parents by pulling their shopping carts and doing the heavy lifting of bikes and scooters.  Before leaving the Center, parents could take a load off while the gift-wrapping team was busy at work.  In those moments they could relax in the snack bar, nibble on treats of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, or have hot dogs and chips, and ice-cold water while chit-chatting with friends and neighbors. They could also be entertained by playing corn hole toss, taking photos with Chocolate Santa, singing along with the Temptations, Donny Hathaway, and Vanessa Williams’ renditions of the African American Christmas standards.

This year was different. The Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 safety protocols and social distancing policies required changes. Promoting community health meant that Fatima could only accept and distribute brand new donations. Instead of parents and grandparents coming inside to shop, agency staff and volunteers fulfilled wish lists, packed and labeled gift boxes for pickup. Once parents pulled into the driveway, their gifts were loaded into vehicles, or onto their shopping carts for “contactless delivery.”

On Thursday, December 17, 2020, the Fatima Family Center hosted its 40th annual Toyland-Joyland Event.  In the days leading up to the event, Director La Jean Ray, members of the Fatima staffing team and volunteers, five volunteers from the St. Marks Knights of Columbus and two firemen, worked tirelessly to make the event a success.  They came together so that 220-Hough area children and youth and 80-seniors could experience a bit of holiday joy.

The Value of Corporate and Community Supports

According to Mrs. Ray, Morgan Stanley’s support was invaluable. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families lost their jobs or became mired in illness and loss.  Ray also noted that the gift filled the gap created by the many area churches, guilds, and community groups that closed their doors in 2020.  The Morgan Stanley contribution allowed Fatima the opportunity to  1) purchase and distribute all new items, 2) offer a variety of quality gifts, and 3) serve more families than ever before in this time of great need. The donated funds made it possible to purchase more high-quality dolls, basketballs, bicycles, books, educational games, craft kits, coats, clothes, toiletries, gift cards, and bikes for the children, as well as gift cards and poinsettias for the seniors.

Anyone who knows Mrs. Ray is aware that the year-round planning for Toyland-Joyland never stops. “I have always loved Christmas, but my heart gets full just seeing the smiles, the tears of joy, and reading all of the handwritten notes of thanks.  For many families, it’s a prayer answered.” I personally watched Mrs. Ray gather invitations from the waiting families, and each had a story of challenge and humble thanks.

Grandmother of two, Mrs. Shirley P. tearfully remarked, “I don’t know how you all manage to do this year-after-year, but it’s a Godsend, and my daughter and I thank you!”

Ron and DeShawna W. shared that they had lost their jobs in the restaurant industry earlier this year.  “We would not have had a Christmas for our three children without Fatima’s help.”

 Same Time Next Year 

If you or your organization want to help sponsor or donate to Toyland-Joyland 2021, please contact Mrs. LaJean Ray at 216-391-0505. As always, the Catholic Charities Corporation and the Fatima Center welcome community donations and participation. To help meet area families’ needs, they welcome your support in donating items such as new books, socks, underwear, hats, sweaters, gloves, games, African American dolls, gift cards, toiletries, gift wrap paper, and gift bags. The children and youth served by Toyland-Joyland range in age from 6 months to 17 years.

Fatima’s next Toyland-Joyland will take place on Thursday, December 16, 2021.