For Lafayette music artist Nebu Nezey, it is the poignant moments that have made her family’s upcoming Christmas Toy Giveaway so endearing.
Now in its seventh year, the holiday event is once again expected to draw hundreds of children to the Northgate Mall from 2-5 p.m. Saturday to each receive a beautifully wrapped present.
But for Nezey, time stands still when she remembers one little girl who was adamant about not opening her gift — quite yet. She remembers the child saying: “I’m not opening it. It’s not Christmas.” According to Nezey, the child was bent on putting it under the family’s Christmas tree. And while other children were eager to see what was inside their presents, she remembers the little girl was content: “I watched her walk out the Mall and not open that gift.”
The R&B and soul singer also recalls the autistic 18-year-old. He had definitely surpassed their targeted population, ages 3-10, but was a child at heart, nonetheless. That is why Nezey assured his mother, when she called, that there would be a present waiting for him even though it would be wrapped but she could not guarantee what was inside.
“She brought him, and cried,” Nezey recalls. “She was so happy.”
For many of the families, financial struggles are a daily part of their lives.
“It’s been a tough year,” Nezey says. “But at least they’ll get one gift for their child.”
And that was exactly what Nezey had in mind in 2016 when she helped to spearhead the toy giveaway for the Nezey Family Foundation, which also includes her husband Brandon and his mother Dorothy, as well her husband’s two brothers Johnathan and Jeron.
“I believe representation matters. The first time seeing a black Santa Claus opened my imagination even more.”Nebu Nezey
At the time, Nezey also wanted to revive the Northgate Mall, which she says was considered the “IT place” in its heyday. Even though her husband’s music studio was among businesses still there, much had changed.
“Over the last years, it’s become pretty much desolate,” Nezey says. “There’s nothing that draws people there.”
Nezey, who performed before a sold-out crowd in November at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, dreamed of creating a free event that would draw in lots of traffic. Her dream is now reality.
Except for postponement due to the pandemic, the holiday giveaway has become an annual community affair, and has grown in size, scope and support. According to Nezey, the foundation gave toys out to more than 400 children one year, and the family’s goal is to top that.
After all, the underlying mission is “to give back to our community, to those who are less fortunate,” Nezey says.
But that doesn’t mean there is not a little downside to the season. As the countdown gets underway each year, drawing closer to the event, Nezey admits she experiences “a lot of anxiety.”
She finds herself on the phone daily calling people, and vice versa, and trying to get more and more donations. Her rallying cry is, “I need some money, I need some bikes!”
It is still not too late to donate.
Christmas Toy Giveaway, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2-5 p.m., Northgate Mall
Call (337) 442-8727 for more information on how to donate a toy or get involved.
But it does take its toll.
“As much as I like to see the children’s faces light up,” she says, “there’s a lot of stress that goes into the project.” Yet for the Nezey family, and supporters who have the foundation’s back, the end does justify the means.
Among her supporters is the National Association of University Women, which helps to wrap the presents, and there’s Brandy Lunch Giveaway, which feeds everyone. Then there’s Jerry Bobb, owner of Super Taters & More in Scott. Perhaps, in the eyes of the children, he is the most important person that day. He’s Santa Claus — or moreover, as Bobb puts it, he’s the “Chocolate Santa.”
Organizers say having an African American Santa Claus, someone who looks like most of the children there, is vital and has a positive impact on their wee lives.
“I believe representation matters,” Nezey says. “The first time seeing a black Santa Claus opened my imagination even more.”
Bobb, who has enjoyed his role over the years, agrees. It makes a difference for children to see someone who looks like their daddy, uncle or neighbor. “Kids are very discerning individuals,” Bobb says.
If they see someone is a nice and sincere person, he adds, “They tend to warm up to you afterwards.”
Even the adults who bring their children are his fans, and want to get a photo with him too. Becoming involved has its rewards even in Nezey’s immediate family. Her teenage children, Brandon and Brandi, also enjoy participating.
“They like to help out with the gifts. They understand the gift of giving,” Nezey says.