Salem family provides holiday cheer for kids in need

Union Leader Correspondent
December 03. 2017 9:31PM
Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots joins the 2016 Celebrity Holiday Tree & Wreath Auction hosted by Christmas in the City with founders Sparky and Jake Kennedy, of Salem. Edelman is scheduled to appear at this year’s auction beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center in Boston. (COURTESY PHOTO)

BOSTON – While the Boston-based Christmas in the City will once again share the stage at its upcoming fundraiser with New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, organizers with the long-running nonprofit know the real star of the season.

“Santa is the main attraction,” said Patricia “Sparky” Kennedy, a Salem resident and co-founder of Christmas in the City. “All the kids like Santa Claus.”

The volunteer-run nonprofit provides support and mentoring to Boston’s homeless population and provides gifts to more than 18,000 children in need during the holiday season.

Edelman has appeared as a special celebrity guest for the nonprofit’s fundraiser in recent years, reading from his children’s book “Flying High.” He is scheduled to appear at the sixth annual Christmas in the City Celebrity Holiday Tree Auction and Toy Drive Kick-off on Dec. 7 at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center.

“Everybody loves it. We do bring in kids to come so they can listen to him read,” Kennedy said. “It’s great when all these people come and give their time, the kids who love football love to see him … but again, the most important person in this event is Santa, so we have the real Santa come down.”

The Patriots player will lead a live auction and partake in other activities, like decorating the Christmas tree.

Proceeds from the kick-off will go toward purchasing toys, transportation and other needs in order to make the holiday party a few weeks later a very special event for the children and their caregivers.

The 29th annual party — for privacy reasons, the group does not publicly announced the date and location of the event — serves children living in shelters, hotels or transitional housing. The following day, roughly 13,000 children, who may otherwise find nothing under the tree, receive toys and clothing.

New for 2017 is a Winter Wonderland ahead of the holiday party that is open to the public. Organizers hope to make this a new pre-party tradition.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center will transform into an indoor amusement park.

John “Jake” Kennedy, a physical therapist in Boston and co-founder of the nonprofit with his wife, said the party is more than just presents, it allows children to hear the holiday music and enjoy the spirit that comes with the season.

“As soon as Santa shows up on the stage, no matter what we have on the stage, he is the superstar and every single child goes wild in such a glorious and wonderful way,” he added. “What it does to your heart is just unbelievable.”

Buses will pick up children and each child receives a gift from their wish list, as well as a backpack filled with winter clothing items and other donated supplies.

Santa is scheduled to make an appearance in a cherry-picker after an introduction and performance by the Blue Man Group. Hundreds of volunteers help oversee the activities, which also includes amusement park rides and costumed characters, to make the season bright.

In the nearly 30 years since the nonprofit started, the Kennedys estimate 500,000 children have benefited from its services.

The family has been involved since 1989 when well-meaning family members showered their children with too many gifts.

“Quite frankly, they got overwhelmed and we thought of a way to give back,” said Sparky Kennedy, prompting the family to call Boston City Hall for a list of shelters where the excess presents could be distributed to needy children.

She took on the nickname “Sparky” to help people remember her objective and know immediately she was affiliated with Christmas in the City.

Now retired to Canobie Lake in Salem, the Kennedys have spread the organization to communities outside of Boston, into Lawrence and Haverhill. They have not yet crossed the New Hampshire border, but hope to expand if there is a need.

One of the most rewarding memories every year is seeing adults who, as children received presents from Christmas in the City, come back to volunteer. And those same Kennedy children who had an abundance of gifts also return year-after-year to help their parents with the holiday parties, Sparky said, in what has become a family staple in December.

“That’s our Christmas. We love what we do. Our children love it, they try to get home every year for it,” she said. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without the event.”

People interested in attending the Dec. 7 fundraiser may purchase tickets at Admission is a $40 donation and one new, unwrapped toy.

The Dec. 16 event at the convention center is open to the public. Tickets are $20 for unlimited rides and are available at

NH PeopleWinter FunSalem

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