Shine A Light: Sheila Matute, Santa’s Helper

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful New Orleanians who during his time of year see their electrical bill soar because they light our city with wondrous holiday lights. It illuminates the very essence of the holiday spirit and the joy of giving.

So with that clearly in mind, Sheila Matute, education and child-care outreach director with The Early Childhood & Family Learning Foundation, is asking the community to help the children of Central City have a merry Christmas.

“We serve working parents whose income is just not enough,” Sheila says. “The children should not have to bear the brunt of these difficult economic times. It’s hard for the children to understand the harsh realities that their parents need to pay rent and can’t help Santa put gifts under the tree.”

On Dec. 22 at the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood & Family Learning Center on 2405 Jackson, the foundation will host a Community Holiday Celebration.

They asked the parents for a wish list, and more than 200 responded with requests for assistance. The staff has matched many families with sponsors, but there are still some wishes waiting to be fulfilled.

“We just need your help via donations,” she says. “The staff will take it from there. We’ll shop till we drop and gift-wrap your selections. Or if you want to shop yourself, we can pick up the items and wrap them.”

Here are some of the items on the wish list: Dora toys, Power Rangers, little bikes, dollhouses and dishes, and larger donations such as bunk beds and a washer and dryer for a family with a special-needs child.
“Many of our parents are asking for learning toys for their children and computers to help the older children with their studies,” she says. “And if you want to pledge just a dollar a month, that will help out a great deal, too.”

The Mahalia Jackson Learning Center has been open for three years. It’s a four-building, multiuse complex on the campus of the former Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. It provides services for families in need with a holistic approach with more than a dozen services, including preschool and kindergarten classes, a public library branch, a health clinic, an adult computer lab, a playground, a test kitchen, welfare offices and a community garden all in one location easy for residents to access.

“We’ve been a major success because we have gained the trust and support of the community.”

If you want to help continue this success, you can contact Sheila at or 504/359-6862.

Shine a Light with Pamela Marquis illuminates the stories of those people who need a little recognition for the many ways they make New Orleans the best place in the world to live.


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