PATERSON, NJ - On a recent winter night, the rhythmic pulse of music could be heard from the street by Patersonians streaming toward Eastside High School, where a 15-foot tall poinsettia-red and pine-green balloon archway floated a Christmas Welcome to all who entered.

Paterson Team H.O.P.E. was hosting the 19th Annual Dinner for the Needy, through the combined efforts of Assemblyman-Elect Benjie E. Wimberly, Paterson Eastside High School, Paterson Division of Recreation, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.-Lambda Upsilon Chapter.

In many ways, the festive balloons seemed to symbolize the multitude of buoyant sprits that abounded in East Side’s cafeteria. With the knowledge that Santa Claus was due to appear soon, young children bubbled with laughter and danced merrily throughout the cafeteria. Neighbors sat around food filled tables kissing babies and chatting pleasantly. The mouthwatering smells of perfectly browned baked chicken, Southern seasoned collard greens, buttered rolls, and hot vanilla cake, all generously donated by local charities, permeated the air.

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Volunteers ladled out the Yule Tide staples, which were lovingly prepared by East Side’s own burgeoning young culinary artists, along with heaping helpings of Christmas Cheer. All of these things, together with a Christmas tree set atop a mountain of gaily-ribboned presents, helped to transform the school cafeteria into an elfin satellite of the North Pole.

The event was billed as an event for the needy, however in appearance, it looked like any other community spirit event, drawing hundreds of Patersonians from all corners of the city. Looking upon a row of tables piled with quickly vanishing bundles of clothing offered to guests for free, one teacher explained that appearances can be deceiving, “You don’t know who’s needy. I’m a teacher and I see a lot of my students here who I know can benefit from this.”

While there was definitely a contingent of folks for whom this might be their only Christmas dinner, the bulk seemed to be dedicated parents from the community who, after a hard day of work, somehow mustered up the energy to bring their children to stand on a line that wrapped from one end of the room to the other, and down and around hallways. It was a line with at least a hundred other children, all eager to experience the joy of a Christmas gift hand delivered by Saint Nick himself.

Lakia Brunson is a college student and mother of two who lives in the neighborhood. When she learned that Santa would be making an early ride through Paterson, she put her books aside for the evening and brought her young girls to the event. When asked her thoughts about the event she said, “Tonight brings a lot of people together with their family and kids. I would like to see more events like this to bring the community together.”

Sitting nearby, 10th grade Girl Scout Karen Fabian, said, “It’s nice - beautiful and sad at the same time, but it makes me feel good that my school was a part of this.” Karen, along with several other local Girl Scouts who all expressed amazement at the turnout, volunteered to blow up the dozens of balloons and to wrap the hundreds of presents. Jessica Chen, an ROTC member volunteer at the event said that the evening emphasized one of the most important aspects of Christmas, namely, “We all are one big family and no matter what race you are, we are just a big, big, big family.”