Antonio Battee stands on the sidewalk outside Cornerstone Community Development Corporation in Ford Heights, waiting patiently for a box of food and a bag filled with children’s books, snacks and hand sanitizer, the Uniting for the Holidays logo screen printed on the outside of the red canvas tote.
The sun is shining, but a slight chill in the air reminds us it’s mid-December. Cars wind down the narrow neighborhood streets, “Jingle Bell Rock” resonating from one car window to the next. Volunteers act as easy-to-spot touchpoints in their bright red t-shirts, “LIVE UNITED” in all capital, bold white lettering on front greeting families.
Antonio’s birthday is on Christmas. He embodies the spirit of his birth holiday—kind, selfless, giving and family-oriented. His daughters are Alana, age eight, and Krissy, a five-year-old. Their mother—Antonio’s fiancé—recently died in a car accident.
“I love being a father. When the challenge came, I took it with open arms,” he says. “It was not the smoothest, but it was easy just to raise my daughters for me because I just love my kids anyway. Living life with them every day is a good thing. I just love waking up to them.”
“But I had run into this tragic situation and was left with a lot of bills,” Antonio continues. “Cornerstone was able to provide a bunch of resources for me—for bills, job placement and some training on carpentry and how to be more business oriented.”
Antonio smiles as he shares he’s recently been pre-approved for a mortgage. Resources at Cornerstone have helped him “understand the difference between renting and owning, which has catapulted me to talk to mortgage lenders and getting myself to be in a position to buy,” he says.
As Antonio envisions his future home for his daughters—they’re not here right now, he mentions, because they’re in school—he watches as other families drive through the Cornerstone parking lot, picking up their food boxes and frozen chicken.
“Getting a holiday meal is a big thing,” he says. “I also have relatives who are homeless so I can understand people in the neighborhood might be homeless, and they can do well with having a meal. They need a meal just like everybody else does. Everybody’s not as fortunate to have food.”
He is hopeful for the future and embraces the holiday season, especially amid an ongoing pandemic, when togetherness isn’t always a guarantee—something Antonio knows far too well.
“The event Uniting for the Holidays is a good one,” he says. “I see that everyone is here, coming to be merry with the holiday spirit, and everybody has their red shirts on, which is a lovely thing. I just think everybody should come together, especially during these tough times. We all were stuck in the house, couldn’t go anywhere, and so now we are able to come outside and just be merry. And the giving spirit is always a good one.”
Uniting for the Holiday is wrapping up this week! Over the last month, United Way of Metro Chicago, with our nonprofit and corporate partners, have been distributing thousands of meals and gifts to families in 10 suburban communities. It’s not too late to help—give today to make a difference for our neighbors this holiday season.