To understand why Isie Goodman, of Hammond, is making sure the children of Gary’s Delaney Projects get Christmas gifts, you need to learn about her childhood there.
“Personally, I never got anything for Christmas,” Goodman said. “That’s a pain I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel.”
Goodman grew up in Delaney in the 1950s and 1960s.
She tells of Delaney kids, including herself, sneaking canned goods out of their mothers’ cabinets to donate to the food drive at school, unaware that the food baskets would go to their own households.
“We thought we were rich, we really did. We didn’t know we were poor.”
Those kids were determined to make it in the world. “Everybody’s goal out there was to get out of the projects.”
For Goodman, her ambition and fun included selling copies of the Esquire newspaper they found dumped in a stack on the curb.
“Now, Means Manor was across the street. Now that’s the only time we was reminded we were poor. They were homeowners, and they wouldn’t let the kids come over there to play with us. But the kids would sneak over there anyway, because kids are kids, they don’t look at that. We would take those papers — they would be a week old — and go over there into Means Manor and sell them and collect the money, until one man said, ‘Hey, this is last week’s paper!’ And we shot out running.”
“That was our money for getting candy and going different places,” she said amid laughter. “It was fun.”
The boys built scooters out of roller skates. “We had to make our toys. And we had so much fun out there!”
Life was fun, but hard.
“We would always stay neat and clean. We had patent leather shoes, to make them shine we’d put a little Vaseline on them, shine them right up.”
Shoes had to last longer than they should have. She remembers her mother buying two pairs of shoes for $5 at a store on Broadway.
“Our mothers would buy us those black and white oxfords. We used to try and take a razor blade to cut the sole to get a new pair of shoes. Those white soles, you couldn’t not tear them up. We wanted shoes like the other kids, you know.
“But we wore shoes until we wore a hole in our shoes. And then what we had to do, we had to take cardboard and put in it, and when it rained, we just took some plastic and wrapped the cardboard around. And when we got to school, we’d take an extra pair of socks for when your foot got wet. We had to do what we had to do,” Goodman said.
As kids naturally do, she eventually grew up and left home. When she returned to Gary, some of her friends got together and decided to hold a reunion. They put Goodman in charge.
She and her friends put together a dance at the Genesis Convention Center. At $10 per ticket, there was money left over after expenses, and she decided to give back to the community.
That’s how the Delaney Projects Development Reunion Organization was born. It gained 501(c)3 status in 2007.
“I wanted to do something for Christmas because the little girl in me still hurts because I never got anything for Christmas,” Goodman said. “That hurt so bad.”
When the giveaway started, there were about 600 kids.
“We started at the dollar stores, because there were so many kids and we wanted to make sure everybody got a toy,” she said. “I don’t care if you gave a child a yo-yo, they’re going to take it to heart, and they’ll never forget you.”
Eventually, Roosevelt School teachers started soliciting toys, and the Ace Hardware store gave 10-speed bicycles and wagons. Gary politicians Suzette Raggs, Jerome Prince, Roy Pratt, Rudy Clay, Mary Elgin and others chipped in.
In the 14 years since the toy drive began, some donations dried up, but other sources have appeared. Goodman credits the Creator for making sure His Son's birthday is celebrated.
A few years ago, her youngest son was in Professor Rachel Smith's leadership class at Purdue University Calumet, and soon before Christmas, the group began collecting donations. Since then, that class has set up a website, delaneyreunion.org, and a Go Fund Me account.
Initially, the gifts were stored at her home. “Every room in my house was full of toys except the bathroom and the kitchens,” she said.
In 2010, the facility where the toys were was burglarized right before Christmas. Christmas had to be delayed until the new year, after a citywide toy and coat drive.
A coat figures prominently in Goodman’s story. She told of one boy showing up in just a sweatshirt, and even that was unzipped. She told him to go get his coat; she’d save his spot in line. But he had no coat, and the sweatshirt's zipper was broken.
The following Tuesday, she dropped off a down coat she had bought for $20 for the boy.
She regularly sews clothing for the children, too. The outfits for young girls are adorable.
“My mama used to tell me Christmas was around the corner, and I’d go around the corner and look, and there wasn’t no Christmas,” Goodman said.
Now, around the corner in Delaney Projects, there’s Christmas for the children who live there.