Rubye Caesar, a
woman of great faith, courage and conviction, died in 1995, but thanks
to a group of dedicated volunteers, her dream of bringing joy to
underprivileged children during the holiday season lives on and has
grown to include 500 children each year.
For Roz Weiss and her chiropractor husband, Dr. Don Weiss, the journey to this year’s annual event began in 1994. They had decided they wanted to help poor children in Philadelphia by hosting a party with gifts, a hot meal and lots of fun. Roz approached numerous organizations with this idea and no one was interested. “At the height of my frustration, I called Rubye Caesar, one of our patients,” Roz says. “I knew she was very active in her North Philadelphia community and thought she could direct me to someone.”
That someone turned out to be Rubye herself. For years, Rubye had hosted a holiday party for the children in her neighborhood, but that year her daughter had died, leaving her to raise her two granddaughters. She simply did not have the money for the party anymore. She started crying when she said that she had been praying for help. Roz began to cry, too, and told her they would work together to make the celebration a reality.
Roz and Rubye headed a group of committed friends and family who gathered food and toys for 75 children. Rubye secured a facility and the names of the children most in need at a local elementary school. The volunteers collected a hat and a pair of gloves for each child in addition to a gift. Dr. Weiss dressed as Santa, and his office staff became elves for a day. “I clearly remember Rubye stirring the biggest pot of hot dogs I had ever seen,” Roz says. Although the first party was bedlam, the children had a ball, and Roz and Rubye agreed to meet in March to begin planning the following year’s event.
In February, Rubye’s sister called Dr. Weiss’ office to say that Rubye had been rushed to the hospital and the prognosis was not good. The Weisses were extremely upset, and Roz immediately went to see her. She wanted to encourage Rubye and remind her of all the work still left to do. Roz was with the family when the doctor told them that Rubye had died.
“My heart sank,” Roz sadly recalls. “This couldn’t be true. Surrounded by Rubye’s grieving family, I felt terribly out of place until her son, Joe, came over and gave me a hug. He looked into my eyes and I knew we had made an unspoken commitment to continue his mother’s work.”
In honor of Rubye, Roz called the second annual event the Rubye’s Kids Holiday Party. With as much help as Rubye’s family could spare, Roz began preparing. Nine days before the event, they had only six gifts and needed 195 more! Roz panicked and was on her way out the door to shop for the rest of the gifts when donations suddenly started pouring in and they ultimately reached their goal. The experience reminded Roz of a story Dr. Deepak Chopra, healer, speaker and author, tells about a teacher who was working on a peace project and was asked, “Where will the money come from?” The teacher responded, “From wherever it is at the moment.” From that point on, Roz stopped worrying about where the gifts would come from, and there have always been enough.
The third year, a new issue cropped up. Thanks to Jackie McNichols, a larger location for the party was secured, but it required transportation for 250 children. Now in addition to gifts and food, buses were needed. Just a few weeks before the event, they still had not secured transportation and Roz became concerned.
But as with the gifts the year before, the bus challenge was solved at the last minute. Joe Caesar was able to secure a donation from Temple University Hospital for one bus. Roz’s parents, Adele and Harry Carroll, provided funding for another, and Bob Hicks, owner of the Yellowbird Bus Company, was so touched by Rubye’s story that he personally donated the last bus and has done so every year since. Roz finally learned that when you want to help others, the universe is programmed to support you. Now she doesn’t worry about how to get whatever is needed for the kids’ party–she knows it will come from wherever it is at the moment.
While Roz’s dream to also provide a book for each child finally came true in 2000 when funding enabled the organization to purchase 400 books, raising funds is always the biggest challenge. Everything that is bestowed on Rubye’s Kids comes from the generosity of individuals, small groups and corporations. As Roz states, “We sometimes feel like the bumblebee, who is not aerodynamically designed to fly but doesn’t know about his deficit, so he flies anyway.”
The joyous faces of the children are the real reward for spearheading each year’s efforts, so Roz and an all-volunteer board are hoping to find large organizations and corporations willing to provide annual funds. Businesses that donate to Rubye’s Kids will receive a tax deduction, but even better is a feeling in their hearts beyond compare! Roz knows this December’s party will be a success. It always is. Imagine organized chaos–small groups of children in new, brightly colored t-shirts moving from activity to activity, beaming with happiness, choosing a gift, enjoying a delicious lunch, and more than 200 volunteers with love in their hearts managing it all. And over the years, each party has been better than the last. In 2004, the magnificent Girard College opened its doors for Rubye’s Kids Holiday Party. The constants remained–a hot lunch, a book, a hat and a pair of gloves for each child, along with a visit with Santa and an opportunity to walk through Toyland to select a gift. Over time, crafts, face-painting, carnival games, other activities and treats have been added. Each year, the party expands, along with the number of volunteers and amount of donations needed to make it a success.
This event now serves 500 children from twelve elementary schools and four homeless shelters. The needs for this year’s party include food, beverages, gifts, books, hats, gloves, Polaroid film, helium balloons, party bags, favors, decorations, craft supplies, composition books, pencils and pencil cases, bus transportation and trucks to transport everything. Also needed are disc jockeys, entertainers, clowns, balloon artists, a photographer, a videographer, a Santa, volunteers to help out at each craft station and serve food, school mascots to perform and a crew to set up the day before and clean up afterward.
Because the mission of Rubye’s Kids, Inc. is to empower children living in poverty through joyful, enriching experiences that promote strong values, education, respect for self and others and commitment to community, we are so pleased that some of the volunteers who once attended the holiday party as children themselves now want to give back and help others in turn. And every year, Roz senses Rubye’s presence and feels the divine rhythm that orchestrates each event. Rubye’s spirit is our inspiration and we are determined to continue her work. Because the need is so great, we have expanded our horizons and are now helping less fortunate children all year long. Rubye’s Kids, Inc. hosts birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters and creates Rubye’s Kids Learning Centers with computers, books and brightly-colored furniture there. Through our Backpack Project, sturdy backpacks filled with much-needed school supplies have been given to more than 2,000 children living in shelters, and our most recent pilot project, Parting Gifts, offers children who are finally transitioning out of the shelter system items they can use in their new homes. In addition, Rubye’s Kids Closets provide essential school supplies for needy children on an ongoing basis in inner-city schools.
So Rubye Caesar’s spirit lives on and continues to inspire us, but we need your help to perpetuate our many programs. We are always in need of funding as well as volunteers. As Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great LOVE.” We hope you’ll join us in spreading the love–Rubye’s own great love for children–as we work to reach still more of the little ones who need us the most!