At Skid Row's Weingart Center, homeless parolees reconnect with Christmas

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For more than a quarter of a century, the Weingart Center on Los Angeles’ Skid Row has tried to help homeless people change their lives. Most of the year, it’s through transitional housing, substance abuse counseling and job training. On Thursday, the Center offered a hot meal, warm clothing and holiday toys.

A stage band from South High School in Torrance performed as Gregory Parker sized up a selection of heavy jackets and pants for his large frame.

For about a year, Parker has lived at the Weingart Center through a program that helps parolees master life skills and look for work. For Parker, that’s also meant managing a drug addiction.

"I’m now in school working to be a pesticide applicator and I’m pending my certification," he explained.

Parker has studied hard and figures he’ll make good money one day. But for now, this event is where he can pick up Christmas toys for his 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son.

"I love ’em very much," he said. "And it’s very convenient to participate in this and provide for ’em. You know, God is good."

He plans to spend Christmas day with the kids and their mother in Compton, watching movies and eating well.

Volunteers from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works and the Weingart Center helped distribute thousands of jackets and toys. Santos Cuen of Azusa, 33, filled a bag for his three kids.

"It helps a lot because last year I didn’t give," said Cuen. "Last year, I don’t even think I was there. This year, I’m able to give back. I mean, yeah, their father’s doing good now. At least it looks like I’m showing something for it. And it’s the thought that counts. And it feels real good to me to be able to give something to them."

Cuen also partcipates in the program for homeless parolees known as EPIC. He got out of prison nearly two years ago and says he’s beaten back a drug addiction for the past eight years. He looks forward to spending this Christmas with his mother and brother for the first time in 20 years.

"I’ve been gone and lost in my addiction and I didn’t have that relationship with my mom and my brother," he explained. "So it’s gonna be real good. And hopefully next year, it’ll be with my kids. We’ll see where it takes me."

This story has been updated.

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