Local businesswoman brings Christmas to underprivileged children
HUNTINGTON -- For nearly 25 years, Denise "Cricket" Hudson has been throwing Christmas parties for underprivileged children in the Huntington area.
But what started as an event for a handful of neighborhood kids has grown into a celebration that serves hundreds, complete with food, gifts, a visit from Santa and even horse rides.
"It just started getting bigger and bigger," Hudson said.
This year's party for children up to 15 years old will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, at Celebration Church, located at 610 W. 19th St. in the old Jefferson Elementary School.
Last year, more than 700 children attended the party. This year, Hudson expects even more. And while she still is desperately seeking donations of bikes and other toys for the event, she said she won't ever turn a child away. She keeps a notebook full of names of children who have never owned a bike and she wants each of them to have one.
"I need a lot of stuff, but I'll work it out," she said.
Hudson got involved in helping kids when she had her own grandchild, who is now in her 20s. The local business owner said she liked having her granddaughter and neighbor kids around back then, so she started throwing parties where every person brought a gift. The parties kept growing, and she started hosting fundraisers and selling hot dogs to buy gifts.
Today Hudson owns Downstreet on Adams Avenue. She's lived in Huntington about 40 years. She formerly owned Crickets Too, also on Adams Avenue.
The self-described people person who loves cooking and kids also used to live in Guyandotte, where she once owned a small catering business and restaurant. She is the ninth of 11 kids, growing up in Mingo County.
"I've worked all my life," she said.
Hudson has been keeping busy with fundraisers already this year, from hamburger sales in October to upcoming sales in December and a charity football game this past weekend. Proceeds from each event benefit next month's party.
Hudson said she continues to do the event because, without it, some children won't get any gifts.
"We have kids who will hold on to their toy because they want something to open on Christmas," she said.
The day of the party is especially busy, she said, as she and others get up early to make thousands of sandwiches and desserts.
"I have a lot of people who pitch in and help. I am very grateful for that," she said.
Connie Carey has been helping Hudson with the Christmas party for the past several years.
"A lot of people know her and love her from going into her club and they want to help," Carey said.
Carey said Hudson could never ignore a person in need.
"That's just the kind of person she is. If someone needs help and they go to her, if she can't help them, she'll find someone who can," she said. "She's a very warm, kind-hearted person. She's a big believer in family."
Carey said the party has grown every year, to the point where one recent event ran out of toys and food.
Hudson said she tries her best to do as much as she can for the area's children. She said the community, too, has been a big help, but she still needs donations.
"There are a lot of good kids out there and the good ones need help," she said. "They don't need put down."
Another fundraiser is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Downstreet. This event will include a chicken and dumplings meal for $6.
Hudson also needs volunteer gift wrappers to bring supplies and wrap presents from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 16 and 17, at Celebration Church.
She is also hosting a Christmas party at Monroe School at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 11.
More information is available by calling Hudson at 304-412-2032. Donations may be delivered to Downstreet at 2349 Adams Ave.
Denise "Cricket" Hudson
HOMETOWN: Justice, W.Va., in Mingo County
FAMILY: one daughter, two grandchildren, two great grandchildren
NICKNAME: "Cricket," because she said she talks a lot.