City of Phoenix cancels Christmas for needy kids?

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PHOENIX -- A Phoenix church says it has bags of toys for children in need to unwrap on Christmas, but no place to distribute them. The reverend says the city of Phoenix is to blame.

It all comes down to an issue of permits.

The Once-A-Month Church uses public spaces like Monterey Park at Third and Oak streets for its meetings. It has since October.

For five years before that, meetings were held at Margaret T. Hance Park. Over the summer, the church was told the park is for major events in the city and that their monthly meetings were attracting an undesirable element.

The church moved its meetings to Monterey Park and held its October and Thanksgiving meetings there without incident.

The Once-A-Month Church says it had an approved private permit to use the park on Sunday, but the city of Phoenix canceled it after being told by the police that the toy handout would be a public event.

Rev. Dorothy Wellington, who has about 150 toys that she's determined to get to children who might not otherwise receive a Christmas gift, said meeting dates are shared with the church's membership, but not advertised to the general public.

She's devastated by the city's decision.

"Will we now be known as a state of class discrimination against the poor and homeless?" Wellington wrote in an e-mail to 3TV. "The City Police and Parks Departments are strategically selecting what groups and organizations they will allow to have a Christmas meeting in our public parks."

Wellington talked to 3TV's Crystal Cruz Saturday afternoon.

"I've been emotionally drained," she said. "I know the people. I know the kids. I know their financial situations. I know the hurts that they've been going through for months. They get down to the point of actually saying they live in poverty. It's devastating. … Are we supposed to meet on the sidewalk? Where are we supposed to go?"

Wellington told Cruz that she will not let the children down and will distribute the toys from the sidewalk if she has to.

Neither city officials nor the Parks Department could immediately be reached for comment.