By Carla Branch and Alex Hampl
More than 2500 of Alexandria’s children live in public and subsidized housing. As they waited at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, Santa arrived in an Alexandria fire truck with lights and sirens going.
Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority staff began hosting Santa’s Winter Wonderland three years ago. They built replicas of ARHA’s buildings, decorated them for Christmas and rented a snow machine to transform the gymnasium at Charles Houston. The first year, they invited 700 children who got to spend some time with Santa and select a toy. Last year, thanks to the involvement of a number of community organizations and corporate sponsors, ARHA provided Christmas cheer to 1500 children. This year, that number grew to 2500.
Chaba Josa designed the structures and supervised their construction. “The first year, I wanted to build replicas of ARHA’s buildings so that the children would see something familiar,” he said. “The second year, we added the Masonic Temple. This year, we built replicas of Christ Church and the Amtrack train station.
“We have a group of highly skilled workers who have been responsible for all of our capital improvements at ARHA for the past several years and they built all of the buildings. It took us about 24 hours to put the whole village together with the lights and everything,” Josa said.
Santa’s helpers last night included former Washington Redskins Charley Taylor and Jimmie Jones, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Councilman Frank Fannon, Councilwoman Alicia Hughes and a host of ARHA staff and community volunteers.