Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
families in Battle Creek aren’t typically inundated with invitations to share in holiday celebrations and often find themselves on the outside looking in, says Shannon Patrick, owner of a clothing business called All Walks of Life
(AWOL 17) and a residential and commercial cleaning business called Spic N’ Shan.
“The thought of knowing that Santa will bring you everything on your Christmas list and invitations to share food in celebration of the holidays for many families and children are plentiful,” Patrick says. “However, this is not the case for families with children experiencing homelessness. Their reality is they do not have the Holiday/Christmas spirit experienced by many. Their life isn’t or may not be happy. “
To ensure that these families aren’t overlooked during the holidays, Patrick is hosting her 1st Annual Christmas Dinner from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17 at First Congregational Church, 145 Capital Ave. NE. The dinner is free and is focused on families with small children who are in shelters or experiencing homelessness. Dinner guests can have their photo taken with Santa and there will be a gift giveaway for children, plus a wide range of crafts and activities.
As a single mother of three, Patrick is all too aware of the struggles and hardships experienced by women and men who are raising and trying to provide for their children on their own. She says being unhoused adds a whole other layer of uncertainty to what they’re already facing.
Carey Whitfield, President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Battle Creek Branch, center, poses with fellow NAACP members holding donated toys.
“I know parents would like to see their kids happy and would like be able to give them something to bring about some holiday cheer,” Patrick says.
This is what prompted her to work on the free Christmas dinner that she hopes to make an annual event. The cost of the meal and the related activities are being covered by Patrick through the nonprofit arm of her business ventures called InfluenceU.
“It’s been a thought of mine to make this nonprofit a real thing,” she says. “My initial thought about it happened about six months ago and this dinner is the first official event under InfluenceU. I really just want to give back to the community in some way.”
In what little spare time Patrick has, she has already been giving back through volunteering with different nonprofits, including RISE, and has donated AWOL apparel and accessories to the 21st Century program, which offers Before and After School
activities for students in the Battle Creek Public Schools that offer opportunities to build community, work on homework, access enrichment learning, and connect with mentors. InfluenceU, she says, will enable her to take a more formal approach to that work, including the Christmas dinner.
She is looking for volunteers to help with the different activities that are planned and also is looking for businesses and organizations that are willing to host Toy Drives at their locations. Currently, donations of new and unopened toys are being accepted at the Southwestern Michigan Urban League at 172 W. Van Buren St. and Glass Family Dentistry at 131 E. Columbia Ave. Patrick is asking individuals to let her know if there are people in need of gifts to give their children.
“I’m hoping I can give the adults something to give their kids for Christmas,” Patrick says. “I have had business owners who have been very supportive by sharing information about the dinner on their social media and donating toys.”
More than anything, she wants people to know that there is hope and there is someone who cares.
“I have always had a soft spot for families with children who might not be in a place in their lives right now where they have the means to ensure a Merry Christmas for their children,” Patrick says. “If the shoe was on the other foot, I would hope that someone would be there for me.”
If you know someone who needs to attend, Patrick asks that they register here
If you would like to help financially or volunteer, please contact Patrick via Facebook Messenger or text 269-580-5343.