HOUSTON Standing next to aisle B50 where Nate Berkus lamps are being sold, a young girl started singing Lauryn Hill’s “Killing Me Softly” by request.
On this cold Sunday afternoon at Target, her mom, meanwhile, was telling Monja Willis about the talent of her daughter.
Willis was co hosting an event with her son James Harden, the 27 year old MVP candidate from the Houston Rockets for 20 single moms, who were given instructions to get their children anything they wanted for Christmas.
Well, almost anything.
“No cell phones,” said Willis, who is a a single mom with three kids of her own, including her youngest, Harden.
For the last five years, Harden and many of his family members have gone through the store to help single moms and their kids pick out items. This year, Harden’s foundation spent roughly $1,500 per family so single moms could buy groceries, toys and clothes.
“We always wanted to give back, and James is a big kid at heart,” Willis said. “We figure this would be the best thing to do.”
Willis worked for nearly 30 years at AT as a dispatcher in Los Angeles and had to save every penny to put food on the table. Once a year, Willis would receive a bonus check from AT for various amounts which turned into Christmas money.
“After I started making a little bit more money at AT we would get a bonus check in February and I would hold onto that check until December and that’s how I was able to shop for my kids,” she said. “I asked them for five cheap nba jerseys
things on their list and if I was able to get two or three of them and to see their faces when they opened up the gifts, I was happy to see the smiles on their face. I was happy, the joy in their heart.
“Christmas is real special, it’s special to everybody as it should be.”
The families selected came from one of the oldest sections of the city, the Third Ward. The moms came with babies and teenagers, pushing red shopping carts while Harden and Willis walked behind them offering suggestions.
“It’s tough, they’re so shy in the beginning,” Harden said of the children. “Once they realize how cool I am and I have a conversation with them, they open up. It takes some time and once they get around to the toys it makes it a lot easier.”
Willis can relate to the single moms.
“It was very hard, but you just have to have in your heart to do it,” Willis said. “You might not be able to get your kids everything they want, but if they get one gift, it should be OK for them. It was hard. But you just have to keep trying and save up those pennies and dimes and catch the sales and do what you have to do.”
While Harden’s financial success has allowed her to retire and move from city to city with Harden during his NBA career, she said giving back and helping those in need is something everyone should do, especially during the holiday season.
“I don’t look at what James make, I look at having extra and doing that for families for Christmas and what we do for Thanksgiving,” Willis said. “It’s a blessing to share with other families. It’s not important what he makes, he could be a manager at McDonalds. If you have an extra dime and do something for somebody else, that’s a blessing for me and my family. I don’t look at what he makes. He has a good job, just like some of these other CEOs. Whatever we could do to help out to make a kid’s heart smile that’s what we try to do.”