HOLIDAY CHEER: 15th District Commander Ernest Cato, second from left, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), MWRD Commissioner Barbara McGowan and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) pose with Santa during the Christmas tree lighting in Austin on Dec. 15. | Photos courtesy of Velda Brunner/facebook

It was cancelled last year, but this year, the parade that typically accompanies the annual Christmas tree lighting in Austin returned in full force — replete with a float and a Santa Clause riding atop an armored police truck. 

Austin elected officials, business owners, police officers, community organizations and families gathered together in front of the 15th District police station, 5701 W. Madison St., on Dec. 15 to celebrate the tree lighting with carols with a surplus of good cheer. 

For the past five years, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the 15th District have worked with their community partners to organize a parade and a Christmas tree lighting. This time around, the Jehovah Jireh #1 Outreach Ministry’s Stop the Violence initiative joined in, playing music and cooking chili and hot cocoa. 

Everybody agreed that they enjoyed seeing the community come together and celebrate, showing just how united and joyful Austin could be.

According to Amara Enyia, the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the parade and the tree lighting were devised as a way to bring the community together and celebrate everything that was accomplished over the past year. 

While her organization and the 15th District spearheaded the effort, they had help from a variety of Austin organizations, including the Westside Health Authority, Chicago Park District, Austin Coming Together and Loretto Hospital. Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD) Chicago, ABC Bank and Girl Scouts Troop 20368, among others, also chipped in.

Enyia explained that, last year, because the Illinois government still failed to pass the budget, many of the organizations involved struggled financially. The parade was “resource intensive” and the organizations decided to skip it, although the tree lighting still happened. 

The resolution of the state budget impasse didn’t resolve all of the non-profits’ financial problems, but they were comfortable enough to do a parade.

Local kids and their families were invited to take part in the march. Several organizations marched with floats and many Austin elected officials joined in. A Santa Claus and a Mrs. Claus marched near the head of the parade.

The participants gathered at Unity Fellowship Church, near the intersection of Cicero Avenue and Madison Street. The parade headed west on Madison, reaching the police station at around 6:40 p.m.

As the parade got underway, STV members were in front of the police station, setting up the DJ booth and the cooking equipment. 

Jehovah Jireh minister Chris Burke said that the initiative has done several events with the 15th District. Taking part in the tree lighting seemed like a natural extension of that.

“I was trying to do more activities with the 15th District CAPS,” he said. “We have a new commander, Commander [Ernest] Cato and we want him to be on the ground running. And we decided that our organization is going to do everything it can to make the community cleaner, safer and better.”

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