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NBA player nets holiday cheer at St. Albans church

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Photo gallery

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NBA player Royal Ivey greets brothers Keyshawn, 4, and Dillyn Pollydore, 7. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Rev. Darryl Frazier (l.) joins Vonda Gaspar in dishing out food to attendees.
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Tammie Williams, PRIDE Project Director for the African Center for Community Empowerment, and her son CJ Copeland stand beside Councilman Leroy Comrie as he gives his remarks.
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Rod Ivey adjusts a poster featuring his son, Royal Ivey, before the start of the event.
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Councilman Leroy Comrie shakes hands with Saywalah Kesselly, the executive director of the African Center for Community Empowerment.
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Corey Jeffreys aka DJ Freekeyy provides the beats.
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Brittany Fields receives her present during the annual Christmas Party, hosted by the African Center for Community Empowerment in partnership with Royal Ivey.
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Laura St. Victor (l.) and Lymani Edouard play hand games.
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Royal Ivey greets 12-year-old Heaven Williams during the event at the Majority Baptist Church in St. Albans.
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Youngsters participate in a dance contest before receiving their gifts at the African Center's party.
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Defend Your Dream foundation workers (l.-r.) Bianca Golden, Rod Ivey and Jenaya Wade are joined by Saywalah Kesselly, the executive director of the African Center for Community Empowerment.
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Young people speak about what Christmas means to them as NBA player Royal Ivey (r.) looks on.
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Youngsters show off their dance moves.
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Lawren Wilson, 8, sports antlers for the festivities.

Christmas is the season of giving, and that fact was prominently on display in St. Albans Saturday.

More than 500 toys and gifts landed in the hands of children and families who needed some cheer this weekend at the Majority Baptist Church, at 115-21 Farmers Blvd. The African Center for Community Empowerment banded together with New York Cares, and NBA star Royal Ivey to put smiles on the community’s collective face and fill their bellies with food.

“A lot of the children and families here are underprivileged and we came here to show them that someone cares about them and they deserve a good Christmas,” said Vanda Gaspar, with the African Center for Community Empowerment. “The excitement these kids feel is truly amazing.”

The African Center is a nonprofit based in southeast Queens whose goal is to empower and develop at-risk inner city youths to become wholesome, functioning members of society, according to Gaspar.

Saywalah Kesselly, the executive director of the African Center, said the partnership with the African Center aims to better equip neighborhoods like St. Albans to weather hard times and come out the other side on a positive footing.

“These are tough economic times in our country, with people losing their jobs, homes and savings,” he said. “When the nation sneezes, our community catches a severe cold. This is a much-needed boost.”

That boost to the holiday spirit was shared by community members and organizations as well as clergy, economic development representatives and one elected official.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) spent the entire day visiting residents and celebrating the holiday, but he wanted to make sure his last stop was a Christmas party with his constituents.

“It is really heartwarming to see such selflessness this time of year,” he said. “[New York Cares and the African Center] know that this is probably going to be the only time these kids can celebrate and that these are probably going to be the only gifts they receive. This is a special event and very uplifting.”

The sight of towering basketball player Royal Ivey also uplifted the children and families in attendance as the Philadelphia 76ers guard came back home for the holidays. Ivey graduated from Benjamin Cardozo High School and the University of Texas.

“I’m extremely excited to once again have the opportunity to give back to my local community of Queens,” said the Harlem-born, Queens-raised Ivey, who has also sponsored The Royal Skill Clinic at his former junior high school, IS 192, for the past five years.

The children were thrilled to learn from an NBA player, but one attendee said the greatest lesson of the night for children was to give back to the community.

“These kids are learning to give after they receive,” said Tammie Williams, a project director with the African Center. “If someone gives to these kids, our hope is that they pay it forward to someone else.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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