Rashaad Abdullah, 32, and Erika Craycraft, 29, watched as their five children unwrapped presents under the twinkling lights of a holiday tree in the decorated dining hall at Next Move’s Family Shelter in Oak Park.
To their delight, each child revealed their own personal pair of pajamas, underwear and socks beneath the wrapping paper – gifts purchased with the donations of this year’s Book of Dreams readers.
The two oldest boys Jacob, 7, and D’Andre, 10, were thrilled to receive a pair of matching black-and-orange skull pajamas. Zaylani, 2, unveiled a pair of penguin-printed footie pajamas, which will replace a kitty cat Halloween costume she previously wore to bed.
Even the couple’s youngest child, 10-month-old Amare, expressed excitement when he tore open his gift, a green-striped onesie with a yellow bulldozer printed on the front.
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“He loved the fact that he was opening something just for him,” Craycraft said. “It was more than just a baby playing with wrapping paper – you could tell he really appreciated the gift. He kept rubbing the soft fabric between his fingers.”
An additional 70 homeless children at Next Move’s Family Shelter will receive a package of comfortable pajamas, underwear and socks this holiday season.
For Abdullah and Craycraft, money is often short and affording presents during the holiday season is a stretch. Although Craycraft recently gained employment as regional manager for a local retailer, the couple’s income primarily goes toward saving for an apartment, which they hope to move into in the coming months.
“As a family, our dream is to have a stable and comfortable home,” Craycraft said. “My children tell us that if they could return every gift they’ve ever received for a home, they would do it.”
Craycraft said that just as others have helped her family, their goal is to pay it forward by helping the less fortunate once their struggle with homelessness has come to an end.
“The fact that someone is caring enough to contribute and let our kids feel the joy of Christmas this year, it means a whole lot to us,” Craycraft said. “It makes Rashaad and I sad at times that we can’t do more for our kids, but it’s so meaningful to see that people are willing to give, to help us, to back us.”
“We are more than thankful and blessed, and we’re very appreciative of every little thing.”