CHICAGO SINGER AND ACTRESS Jennifer Hudson poses with a young fan during a toy donation drive in Chicago on Dec. 20. Hudson and her sister Julia passed out the collected toys to kids in need on Christmas Eve at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Center on the city’s South Side. (Photo by J. Coyden Palmer)
Hudson Sisters bring holiday cheer
By J. Coyden Palmer
Chicago native and Grammy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, along with sister, Julia teamed up with WGN television to donate Christmas toys to disadvantaged children this week. The toys were given out to kids at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Center on the city’s South Side Christmas eve. This is the fourth year for the event, which is a part of the Julian D. King Foundation, named after Julia Hudson’s son, who was murdered by her ex-husband in 2008.
The Hudsons collected the new, unwrapped toys last week at WGN’s studios headquarters on the North Side. People drove up in cars and vans despite the cold, rainy morning dropping off presents. Many said they felt a connection with the sisters and their efforts, and said donating the toys are good for promoting the Christmas spirit.
For Julia Hudson, the annual toy drive is therapeutic as she continues to deal with the loss of Julian. The more reticent of the two sisters, Julia and Jennifer’s bond is still tight, despite the tragedy in which they lost Julian, along with their mother Darnell Donnerson and brother Jason Hudson. Julian was Julia’s only child.
“The toy drive helps me because I’m still able to do for a child, even though I lost my own,” said Julia Hudson. “I feel like I have a lot more kids now and that I am taking care of them as if I were taking care of him.”
“Despite the negative circumstances, you still have to get up the next day and the day after and survive it,” said Jennifer Hudson. “This is our way of that. It’s a family effort and at the same time we’re healing as well.”
Those who donated said they felt for the sisters, now five years after the tragedy. But many the Crusader spoke with said they were inspired by the sisters’ resolve.
“We are fortunate as a family to have means, but there are many out there who are struggling, so as a family this is something we all wanted to do,” said Travis James, who along with his wife and two daughters drove from Melrose Park to drop off toys. “We purchased four items to donate, one from each of us.”
Hudson was also joined by the Blue Man Group and the Soul Children of Chicago choir. Founded in 1987, the Blue Man Group produces theatrical shows and concerts featuring experimental music, comedy and multimedia; recorded music and scores for film and television and has one of the longest live production shows in Chicago history. The trio group features men in blue paint. The Soul Children of Chicago were also on hand, serenading those who donated toys with Christmas carols.
Julia Hudson said the Christmas holiday takes on an even more personal meaning for her with the loss of her three family members. She said she and Jennifer get together with other family members and she does most of the cooking. She joked about how Jennifer comes in and seasons one dish and makes some of the desserts, but that she is clearly the better cook in the family.
In addition to the annual toy drive, the Julian D. King Foundation also sponsors a school supplies drive in the fall. Jennifer Hudson will also be celebrating the release of a new CD in 2014 and continues to evolve as an actress as well as a singer.