Volunteers with 345 Art Gallery hand out gifts to students at Morton School of Excellence on Dec. 17. | Igor Studenkov

On Dec. 17, 345 Art Gallery, 345 N. Kedzie Ave. in East Garfield Park, held a gift giveaway for students from two nearby elementary schools: Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St. and Morton School of Excellence, 431 N. Troy St.

Younger kids got toys and games, with 170 gifts going to Morton students and 280 gifts going to Beidler students. Older kids got $15 McDonalds gift cards. Charmaine Gardner, the gallery’s events coordinator, said that the toy drive and giveaway was part of the gallery’s mission to engage local young people and be a positive force for the community.

Corry Williams, the gallery’ founder, has said that he wanted to create a space where East Garfield Park residents could feel like they belonged, a place that would inspire residents, especially kids, to explore their creativity.

“I think that it’s a tremendous blessing to our school. It’s really amazing, because it’s coming from within. To have someone from our community give back to our community. It’s really amazing.”

Dr. Peggie Burnett-Wise, Morton school of excellence principal

Gardner said that the gift giveaway is an expression of positivity for the community this holiday season.

“We can build strength and give out things to the children that we know are essential and will bring holiday cheer,” she said.

The event was also something of a promotion for the gallery, in the sense that it let kids know that the gallery is around and is a critical resource kids can take advantage of. Williams got help during the giveaway from his cousin, state Rep. Jawaharial Williams (10th).

“I wanted to help out, give back, let the children know we’re thinking of them, help them celebrate,” the legislator said.

“What we wanted to do was to give all you guys gifts, because we appreciate you,” Corry Williams told the students at Morton. “You guys are our future. Keep working hard. Study and get good grades.”

Toy drive gifts | Igor Studenkov

John Hearon, a Morton art teacher, said he hopes that the giveaway helps rebuild connections between the gallery and the schools that the pandemic disrupted.

“We really should’ve done it a long time ago,” he said. “I appreciate all of you.”

Morton assistant principal Dr. Raven Daniels said that she appreciates that the volunteers “went out of their way” to make sure students got their presents.

“The kids are excited, I’m excited,” she said.

Morton principal Dr. Peggie Burnett-Wise, said that she especially appreciated the fact that the event was organized by someone from the community.

“I think that it’s a tremendous blessing to our school,” she said. “It’s really amazing, because it’s coming from within. To have someone from our community give back to our community. It’s really amazing.”

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...