Keeping the Holiday Spirit Alive

December 22, 2010

Keeping the Holiday Spirit Alive
Chuck Hicks preparing gift baskets. (Photo Credit: Deborah Cole)

Shortly after Chuck Hicks joined Local 1808 (Council 20) three decades ago, he organized a holiday party in his home for co-workers from the District of Columbia Public Library. It was so popular that his December soiree became an annual charity event, with guests bringing toys to donate to local orphanages. “It dawned on me that we should do something for the neediest in our community,” he recalls. “My friends and I had jobs, so I started asking people to give.”

When the AIDS crisis grabbed headlines in the early 1980s, Hicks decided to include in his Christmas list children and their families who were affected by the disease. “I was struck by the alarming rate of fatalities,” he says. “I was also disturbed by the prejudice against gay men and African Americans who were suffering from HIV/AIDS.”

Moved by these personal stories, Hicks founded Bread for the Soul, a charity organization that provides holiday relief for families living with HIV/AIDS. Using his influence as president of Local 1808, he called on his co-workers to help. “They rose to the challenge,” he says. “We all realized that many of our brothers and sisters work in professions that put them directly at risk for contracting the disease, like hospital and health care workers.”

Other organizations have since partnered with Bread for the Soul to keep the annual charity drive alive. They include AFSCME Council 20, DC Department of Public Works (DPW), DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), WPFW Radio and the DC Public Libraries, which serve as drop-off points for donations.

On December 17, the 64-year-old librarian who retired two years ago mobilized 100 volunteers to deliver more than 1,000 toys and food baskets to 180 families in the metro area. After leading the effort for 30 years, Hicks is confident the holiday tradition will continue even without him at the helm.

“As a young boy growing up in Louisiana, I was incredibly blessed because I was showered with holiday gifts,” noted Hicks. “My father was a union man and a civil rights activist and he always taught me to be thankful for what I have and to be mindful of others who don’t have any. I know my AFSCME sisters and brothers believe that the union is not all about winning our rights. We’re also about justice and compassion. Looking out for those in need is what keeps the true holiday spirit alive.”

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