HAMMOND | "The First Noel" softly played, floating down from the overhead speakers. Wonderfully white snowflakes hung still at the bottom of a green string.
An Americana Christmas bag, embraced in red and green, was attached to the north wall, with silver tinsel used as a frame.
Residents of the Mt. Zion Dr. A.R. Burns Pleasant View Plaza home for the elderly sat at the tables, adorned with plaid covers. The much-loved red and white peppermint candies sat on the tables.
Joy was in the air Friday afternoon.
"This is beautiful," said Dorothy Alexander, a 75-year-old resident of Mt. Zion. "You look at these boys and they could be doing a lot of other things. They could be in the street up to no good. But they're here with us. You can feel the Christmas Spirit in the air.
"These boys are blessed."
The young men Alexander was speaking of were the Hammond boys basketball team. The Wildcats came to Mt. Zion to serve food at the Christmas luncheon.
Dressed in their purple warm-ups and plastic gloves, they went to each resident and took their order, then went and got the plate and returned it to the smiling faces.
The menu was classic Christmas, fried chicken, ham, corn, warm rolls and of course, mashed potatoes and gravy. A large table of colorful sweets were also in the dinner at the home in Hammond.
"This is good for Hammond High," senior Malik Myles said. "A lot of people out there talk about us as a ghetto school. But that's not what we're about."
Wildcats' coach Larry Moore Jr. has a close connection with Mt. Zion. Reverend Burns, who started the facility, was the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for decades before passing in 2000.
Friday's community event for his team was a family affair.
"My grandfather was all about giving back to the community, Moore Jr. said. "That's what I'm trying to do with our guys. He taught me humility, to always do for others.
"No. 1, I told our guys to have compassion for other people. This time of year it can be sad and lonely for some elderly people, so we have to do our part to lift them up. To me this is the most important time of the year."
Moore said the cheerleaders at Hammond High heard about the event and wanted to come, too. But that wasn't possible on such short notice. On Thursday night a toy drive for the needy was conducted at the school.
Santa would've been proud of the spirit of these Wildcats.
Myles donated some toys. Teammate Kortrell Caston, a senior guard, was at his second Christmas Party at Mt. Zion in consecutive years. The emotion he got was better than a new pair of Nikes under his own tree at home.
"It's a good feeling to give back," Caston said. "This uplifts people. You see their smiles. You hear their stories. It's pretty awesome. It makes you feel better as a person."
The residents not only got a great meal, but they also received Christmas cards and took part in a raffle. Every Wildcat, whether they were dishing corn or taking food to the elderly, knew what the event was about.
"It's about these people here," Myles said. "We want to make them happy."
Mt. Zion's assistant manager, Stephanie Wright, was pleased with the event. The residents erupted with applause after the prayer of thanksgiving before the lunch.
"This boosts their esteem around the holidays," Wright said. "Our residents were so excited when they heard the boys were coming. They were so, so eager for this to get started."
She said it would be great for everyone to do what Hammond's Wildcats did, spend time with the elderly, lonely and sick during the Christmas season.
This event was a two-way street, said 65-year-old Beverly Titus.
"I think we lift their spirits, too," Titus said. "They're showing us they are giving back and that's what we're doing. This is a great time."
DeAnna Richardson will turn 55 on Christmas. Like all the others at the festivities, Richardson was enjoying the Yuletide spirit.
"It's so cool that they came," she said. "They bring a youthful energy that we don't have anymore. It's great. They stepped out of their lives to come here and help someone else out. I think that's great."