Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the West Side link for Melissa Green’s name from the City’s Neighborhoods Department.
As the first bars of “Winter Wonderland” rolled from the Chillbilly Deluxe chariot at the corner of Sullivant and Central avenues on Friday night, smiles began to spread over the faces of around 100 people.
The crowd had gathered for the second Songs on Sullivant Christmas carol event, launched in 2019 with the aim of bringing positivity to a corner of town that doesn’t always see it.
Melissa Green, the West Side liaison for the city’s neighborhoods department, helped organize Friday night’s event, as well as its first iteration in 2019. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic -19.
“The West Side just has this amazing sense of community,” Green said. “You might not hear about it, but it is the experience people have.”
The harsh reality of life in Franklinton, however, remained evident on Friday night even as manufactured snow floated through the air. As the singers sang “Jingle Bells” and the children received gifts from Santa, a poster seeking information about an unsolved homicide that took place near the intersection in October 2020 floated against a utility pole.
Friday’s event attracted around 100 people at the corner of Sullivant and Central avenues and even more at the corner of Hague and Sullivant avenues, the second stopover of the event. Both corners lie along a stretch of Sullivant Avenue that is statistically among the city’s worst in many categories, including abandoned properties.
Read the series:Suffering on Sullivant
“These corners could use a little holiday spirit and a little love,” Green said. “When you think of Sullivant Avenue, you don’t think of Christmas carols. We hope to create some fun and joyous memories to outshine, perhaps, others.”
Green said the hope is to make the event an annual event and continue to evolve it in the years to come. The event has also expanded to the Linden area this year, with Carols along Cleveland starting Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at 1410 Cleveland Ave.
For Denise Nelson, who lives on the West Side, the night was a fun time to bond with her daughter and grandchildren.
“It’s something positive and it’s nice to be around people,” said Nelson. “There are so many negatives out there.”
One of the biggest hits of the event was a light-decorated sleigh with West Side Santa Claus replacement Jay Michael Jennings, which stopped during final Christmas preparations at the North Pole.
“I love giving gifts,” Jennings said. “It makes my heart swell and gives me joy. Stuff like that gives me enough joy to get through the rest of the year.”
Jennings said he heard about the 2019 event through the official man in the red suit and stopped with a bag full of gifts for children in the area. This year,
“I go where I am needed,” Jennings said. More than 250 gifts were collected by the sponsors throughout the neighborhood and distributed to the children.