Community News

Courts closed, but hearts open for Harvard Park drive-thru holiday event

There was a point in time a few months back when Marty Woods figured the popular food and toy holiday giveaway that has occurred in December the past nine years at the Jackie Tatum Harvard Park Recreation Center courts in Compton would not take place. 

With the rise in COVID-19 pandemic cases surging across the Southland, Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program Executive Director Woods met with his committee, including longtime event organizer and PBJTP Board of Directors member Anne Star of Calabasas, and discussed if there was still a way to inject the community with some much-needed holiday joy at this difficult time. 

Through a partnership headed up by the City of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson called Community Safety Partnership, a plan was set in place to hold a drive-thru giveaway that would not include tennis, but would still help those in need. 

“They were going to give food away anyway, but we were hesitant in giving away the presents and having this be our regular annual Christmas holiday event because we felt we couldn’t do it safely,” Woods said. “But once we had a meeting with the Community Safety Partnership folks, we said let’s partner with them and make it part of our annual event.” 

This year’s Grab & Go Groceries & Toy Giveaway will take place Saturday, Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., at Harvard Park for the 10th consecutive year. The highly successful Community Safety Partnership is a community-led and driven program aimed at making neighborhoods safer by building closer bonds between Angelenos and the police officers who serve them. 

“We felt we needed to bring both groups together because of the restrictions on the tennis court,” Woods said. “So instead of stopping it, we felt we needed to partner to still bring it to that community, but in a safe way.”

Woods said this year’s holiday celebration will be scaled down, but will serve a large community that can use the assistance at this time of year.   

“We are disappointed that we won’t be on the court with the kids, but we still have Tennis-Warehouse and our other sponsors so they will still be getting all the same things with the Grab & Go component,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the CSP and other local collations and everyone working together, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Woods said Star once again rallied the troops and helped ensure that the event would survive this year. “Ann said, ‘Marty, we have to find a way to do this. We have to figure out a safe way.’ We’ve been serving this community with this event for the past 10 years. Once we had CSP on board, we just kicked the door through. But it was Ann who was the one who said we have to do this for this community. Because they need this.”

Star, who has helped wrap more than 750 presents she will soon have Woods pick up in a truck, said having local police officers on-site and handing out gifts goes a long way in fostering good will between the law enforcement and the community. 

“Nothing makes me more happy than to see the look on the kids’ faces when they receive the gifts,” Star said. 

Star calls the holiday celebration at Harvard Park her favorite day of the year. “It is different this year and we are bummed we are not going to be on court, but it will still be meaningful, and a lot of families will receive food and presents. We are happy to be able to continue the tradition even if it’s under different circumstances.”