Keith O’Connor and Stephanie Lalley, employees at government contractor DLH, play Santa and Mrs. Claus at Bright Beginnings, a preschool in Southeast Washington. On Santa’s lap is Amir Prince Shaheem Schatzman. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
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“Mama needs to get in the picture,” someone said as the wails of a child echoed down a hallway at the Bright Beginnings preschool. “That’s the only way it’s going to work.”

And so Mama was summoned to join her little one alongside Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The Christmas party is a highlight of the year. This was the first one in the school’s sparkling new building on Fourth Street SE. It was hosted by the Junior League of Washington, the organization that founded the charity 30 years ago.

Volunteers from DLH, a government contractor that provides social services, were there to oversee photos with Santa. It was a well-oiled machine: Children lined up by class, a photographer fired off shots as a half-dozen Junior League and DLH volunteers tried to distract any squirmy kids, the photos were printed out and inserted into souvenir frames, and each child received a wrapped gift.

Joy Trejo, senior director of business development at DLH, said fussy babies were easily distracted by the lights and jingle bells. The 3- and 4-year-olds held it together, too: They had learned to associate Santa with presents. But a lot of the 1- and 2-year-olds were “a little shaky,” she said.

That included the aforementioned toddler. But when his mother came close, his wails ceased, and he did that air-gulping thing that signaled a cessation of hostilities. Everything was going to be okay.


Elliot Fleming and Margaret Hanson of the Brookings Institution serve cookies to N Street Village clients. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

Bright Beginnings is a preschool for District families experiencing homelessness and a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. You can learn more, and make a donation, by visiting posthelpinghand.com. To contribute by mail, make a check payable to Bright Beginnings and send it to Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington, DC 20032.

So Others Might Eat

The boxes of presents at So Others Might Eat looked like a gaily wrapped brick wall. The wall was five or six boxes deep and stacked taller than a person. They stretched the length of a storage room. Volunteers had been dropping them off all month at the charity on O Street NW.

Breakfast was ending in the SOME dining room. (More than 430,000 free meals are served each year.) Before they left, SOME clients stood in line to receive gift boxes. Each box was labeled for a man or woman and contained: five articles of clothing (a hat, scarf, pair of gloves, pair of socks and pair of underwear), seven hygiene items (soap, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and two razors), and for women, pads or tampons.

There were boxes for kids, too, without razors and with a toy.


Anne Ourand and Michael Fleming, who work for So Others Might Eat, stand in front of the gift boxes that are given to clients. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

Six women were taking showers — another service the charity provides — so SOME’s Daryl Wright made sure boxes were set aside for them.

An older man — his hair gray, his head topped by an 82nd Airborne baseball cap — was fiddling with his box. He was trying to get it into a drawstring bag, but the box was large and wouldn’t fit.

A SOME staffer asked whether he wanted to exchange it for a more compact box. He did. The man slipped it into his bag, gave his thanks, then left to start his day on the streets.

SOME has a variety of programs for poor, homeless and addicted people in Washington. To learn more and make a donation, visit posthelpinghand. com. To give by mail, make a check payable to So Others Might Eat and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

N Street Village

There’s a community dinner every month at N Street Village, a charity that helps women experiencing homelessness in the District. On the Thursday before Christmas, the dinner had a holiday theme. About 40 women were in the multipurpose room, enjoying a dinner of turkey, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and salad brought and served by volunteers from the Brookings Institution. There were Christmas cookies, too.

“The ladies like to socialize with people who aren’t staff members,” said Sangita Joshi, head of the permanent supportive housing program at N Street Village’s flagship location at 14th and N NW.

At N Street Village, clients “get tools for a healthy, independent life,” Joshi said. They’d be getting something else, too: new sheets for their beds. “It’s really boring,” Joshi said. “But everyone gets the same thing, and it’s useful.”

Boring? I don’t know. When you’ve lived part of your life without a bed at all, new sheets for your own bed seems like something pretty special.

To support N Street Village, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to N Street Village and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, DC 20005.

A time for giving

So far, Washington Post readers have donated $130,695 to our three Helping Hand charities. Our goal is to raise $225,000 by Jan. 4. Please give today.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.