"We're going to see some elephants," said 4-year-old LaRiesha Duckett. "We're going to see the monkeys," piped Tiffany Page, also 4, but Marcus Rosebar, 12, said he was more interested in "those acrobats that are walking around on tightropes."
The circus met the expectations of two busloads of inner city youngsters, thanks to the efforts of the Shaw Community Food Committee, which donated tickets for the event.
The Community Food Committee is a nonprofit organization made up of local members of the business community, sports celebrities and politicians, who raise money for programs at the Shaw Community Center and distribute food to needy families in Shaw.
Last year, the committee received about $18,000 from various sources, including a celebrity roast of WMAL disc jockey Bill Mayhew, the Bartenders' Ball and benefactors in the Touchdown Club, according to the committee's vice chairman Thomas J. Hurney, an officer of Advertising Novelty Co.
The group sponsored a one-day trip for 50 children to New York City. It gave out 300 to 400 food baskets at Thanksgiving and fed 550 more families at neighborhood churches, Hurney said.
The Community Center operates out of two run-down storefronts at l8l4 Seventh St. NW, in the heart of the riot corridor, where boarded up stores and vacant lots line the streets and police say drug dealers crowd the sidewalks.
It serves as a second home to some 70 children who gather there to play video games, checkers and basketball under the stern eye of Lawrence Thomas, the director. Thomas, a kindly man with the bark of a drill sergeant, began helping the children of Shaw in l963 when he started his own recreation program in the basement of his house.
"These are like my grandkids. I started out working with their parents. And I know everybody," he said.
Committee members are usually on hand when the group sponsors an activity. Former Redskin Larry Brown and Assistant Chief of Police Marty Tapscott came to see the children off to the circus, while D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and Hurney rode along to help Thomas supervise the children.
"This part is very gratifying," Hurney said of the committee's involvement at the center. "I've been involved with other charities and it seems like the bigger you get, the further away you get from where the money's being spent. With Shaw, we have no expenses. All the money goes directly to the people."
Many of the committee members, such as Fauntroy, grew up in Shaw, the community that encompasses most of the area between Union Station, Howard University and the federal district.
"They are well equipped to serve as role models for the children," Hurney said. "It says to the kids: 'Look, we grew up here, and we made it. You can too,' " he said.
The committee's work is especially important because of the virulent drug traffic that seems to pervade almost every street corner in the neighborhood, Tapscott said.
The members of the Community Food Committee want to spread the word to other businesses and organizations about what they are doing for the community center so they can expand their programs, Hurney said. "We're trying to involve people who don't know where Shaw is," he said.