Giving back to the community is what this tenacious team of East Clevelanders are all about. What started as an idea, has manifested itself into a continuous blessing for so many people throughout the inner city. Every year, four great samaritans express their altruistic nature passing out gifts to unexpecting families in East Cleveland. With this year’s goal being to reach 500 families, the team visits various locations thought the city offering gifts inspired by the holiday season for Donte’s Gift Express.
Created by Donte Gibbs, the event originated in 2013 with the help of his friends India Moore, Seretha Etheridge, and Dominique Tucker. “We wanted to help families that may not be able to afford gifts, and also increase family bonding,” Gibbs said. “We really wanted to unwrap the joy of family.” Gifts that families can use together such as movies, board games, cookware and sleds are on the giving list, along with other treats that promote spending time with family. Partnering with Five Below, the East Cleveland Police Department, Pizza Hut, Hands Across Cleveland and Neighborhood Connection, the team sets out into the neighborhood to spread holiday cheer.
For a duration of four months, the quartet has several meetings in preparation for the event, this year, held Dec. 22, 2018. Discussing gift wrapping, distribution, the Betty Ruth Family Gift and more, they brainstorm the production. “I started off as a volunteer,” Etheridge said. “When Donte needed a committee, of course, I was down with him. So, when it was time to grab a gift, some paper, some tape and get to work, I was ready.” For Etheridge the entire process is very touching. From the gift wrapping process to seeing people’s faces after accepting the gift is rewarding and helps her continue the mission. “Many people come from neighborhoods where they had to struggle, and sometimes people need a little push or a word of encouragement, she added. “I think Donte’s Gift Express provides some of that motivation around the holiday.”
This selfless act of kindness not only touches the hearts of so many in need, but also provides a feeling of uplift within the team members themselves. “We have always wanted to give back to the community in a way that has never been done,” Tucker said. “Everytime I watch the old videos of us wrapping the gifts, it’s so humbling. It’s amazing and the expressions that we see on faces after we give a gift, it gives me chills.” For Tucker, he feels this process is a part of his purpose and if he can help someone, that person would be inclined to help someone else.
For Moore, genuousity is felt when people realize that they are being given a gift without something in return. “I feel so good on the inside, especially noticing how much this impacts people,” Moore said. “Some people don’t have loved ones, and if they do they might not be able to celebrate with them. With Donte’s Gift Express we are helping them do something they wouldn’t be able to and that feels good.”
In remembrance of his grandmother, Gibbs also does the Betty Ruth Family Gift given to one family that may need a holiday meal, additional gifts or extra support for the holiday. “This year will definitely be a test with 500 gifts being the most gifts that we have ever done in one year,” Gibbs said. In its 6th year, the event continues to grow as these fantastic four individuals come up with new ideas and hopes of giving back to the community. “My motivation comes from remembering what I wish I had when I was a kid,” he adds. They hope to continue advancing Donte’s Gift Express possibly providing a family with a vehicle or a home in the near future.