I had been with Charles River Apparel for about 10 months, when my first Christmas in the City rolled around. I had heard, on a daily basis, about this event that Charles River participated in. The excitement and enthusiasm that Barry and Deb Lipsett (our owners) spoke about this event was infectious. As someone that was still new to the company and being asked by ownership to participate, I did not want to say no. That is how the journey started. Christmas in the City was a company activity that meant so much to my ownership. So, I packed up my car, headed up from New Jersey to Boston on a Saturday evening. I was a little grumpy since I had not done my own Christmas shopping yet. As it turned out, I did have the pleasure of meeting some hotel staff (my favorite new people), who generously offered to help me wrap gifts, should I find the time that night to go shopping.
The next day started out like any other Sunday, woke up early and headed out to this Company-sponsored event. I drove past the office and saw a little bit of hustle and bustle going on from our marketing team, that had planned to meet before and drive into the city together. However, I was keeping to myself, my plan was to put in the time and get back home. I pulled into the Boston Convention Center to see a parking lot attendant directing cars to a certain parking lot. I was amazed at how many cars were already there. I walked in, checked in with a very nice volunteer that had my name and then directed me to get my volunteer t-shirt. Unfortunately, gaining a few pounds, they did not have my correct size. Okay, I am here for Barry and Deb, so the t-shirt does not fit – we are here to help these homeless families. I texted Deb to let her know I was here, and she came running out to meet me. The smile on her face put me at ease, and then Barry trailing behind her almost pushing her out of the way to give me a big hug for being there. I have to say it was kind of nice that our ownership was fighting to give me the first hug of the day. At that point they walked me into the convention center, and to my astonishment, I could not believe what I was looking at. To set the scene a little better, imagine a huge convention center, half of which is blocked off by a wall and a massive red curtain. The other half was filled with hundreds of tables, balloons on each, crayons, snacks, and a decorative tablecloth. Around the rest of the room were decorated Christmas Trees and a huge stage. I saw “famous” cartoon characters walking around in costume. It looked like a movie set of the next big Santa movie.
Barry and Deb then took me around the curtain to give me a sneak preview of what was behind it. I could not believe it. I was looking at a full-size indoor amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, a petting zoo, and many rides. Deb looked at me with wonder, and said, we have over 5,000 people coming. I had no idea how big and how much impact we were about to have. With that, they walked me back to our host tables, we had 5 tables each with 10 seats. I saw Bruce (our COO) with a clipboard, checking things that needed to be done before our guests arrived. Charles River had about 20 company people in attendance as volunteers, including people from marketing, customer service, HR, IT and so many others. I felt a little out of place, not knowing what to do and really what to expect. An announcement comes over the speaker letting everyone know that we have 30 minutes until the first bus is arriving. I asked Bruce what I could do to help, he said follow one of our people and they will show me the ropes, but be ready to welcome our guests. We set the tables, we had our wristbands for the kids ready, we had our lists all set. We were ready to go, or so I thought.
Everyone starts making their way over to the red carpet, which happens to be where all the guests arrive. The first bus is finally here, the doors swing open and I see the cutest little girl walk through them with the biggest smile I have ever seen. A crowd of volunteers start applauding and cheering this little wonder on. She proceeds to run down the red carpet high-fiving everyone she could see. The people kept coming, bus after bus for the next hour, at least. The guests assigned to us finally arrived. We had 48 people to attend to, ranging from infant to adult and all ages in between. I watched one of our guests go right to our IT manager and take him by the hand to say hello. I was surrounded by all of these people I had never met, but the goal for the day was to give them a day they would remember forever. The kids wanted to see everything, get their faces painted, see the dogs, see the characters. A band was playing Christmas music, kids were dancing and smiling. What struck me the most was the parents. You could visibly see the hard times that they were right in the middle of, they wore it like a badge of honor, but today was about letting go, and it was about giving their kids something special. A woman handed me her child and said, “Would I mind taking him over to get his face painted, that is all he wanted to do.” She was exhausted, and needed to sit. This little man took my hand and led me right where he wanted to be. He said thank you for taking him, and we can go on rides together later. I laughed; his excitement was overwhelming. I watched our team embrace every single person and then some. Here is what got me, I watched Barry Lipsett have two kids hanging from each arm. The look on his face was unlike anything I had ever seen before. He was truly in his element. Was it because he loved kids so much? He has two of his own and he has a grandson that lives on the other side of the country. This was certainly one way he was giving back. He was taken from one side of this convention center to the other 10 times over, and the smile never left his face. This was going to be a truly life changing experience for me.
I got to see other sides of my coworkers first hand, but I got a small glimpse into a different world that I could not even imagine. Each of the kids and adults were so thankful for the food, the gifts they received, and the time spent with total strangers whose one goal was to give them a great day. One woman cornered me and gave me a hug to say thank you. Her son does not have a father, and for one day he felt like he did. I started crying like a baby. I had no idea of the impact that we could make for so many in one day. This one day changed the way I look at a lot of things. I looked at our owners in such a different way. This is who they are, our team, our family… this is who we are. The industry as a whole did not know much about what Charles River was doing with this event. I decided to change that. I let everyone know, we even invited Michele Bell from ASI to participate in the following year. I brought my family to the next one. I watched the volunteer list from Charles River get full so fast. To take 5,000 guests, all with so little, and to give them a special day at Christmastime was amazing. To see the reaction of the volunteers and the guests interacting and the smiles that were all around that day – that was magical.
Rich has been with Charles River for over two years, came in as the Director of Sales, and was promoted to VP of Sales within a few short months. Rich has a deep history in the apparel side of the promotional products industry. He started with Vantage Apparel in 2008 as the Eastern Regional Sales Director. Before his time ended, he was running the east, the west, inside sales and the golf division. This led him to the next stop at Ash City, where he was responsible for the Golf and College division, then adding Strategic Accounts to his responsibilities. He left in 2014 to join Sanmar as a Strategic Account Manager. Rich then joined Charles River in Feb of 2016.