By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers
Plenty of opportunities exist to give and receive in the Downriver area.
The Toys for Tots campaign has been underway for a few weeks now in Melvindale, Wyandotte, Allen Park, and Riverview, and each city has designated donation site. Locations for Melvindale are the Police Department and City Hall, 3100 Oakwood Ave., and Wyandotte has a drop-off site at the Police Department, 2015 Biddle Ave.
Allen Park has drop off sites at City Hall, 16850 Southfield Road, and the Fire Department, 6730 Roosevelt Ave. Residents can also donate toys at Primo’s Pizza, 8237 Allen Road. Toys can be donated in Riverview at the Police Department, 14100 Civic Park Drive.
Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys for children from infants to 14 years old. Monetary donations can be made at toysfortots.org, and needy families also can request toys on the website.
The program was started in 1947, according to the website, and has collected about 469 million toys and passed them out to over 216 million children. The last day to donate to Toys for Tots is Dec. 15, but the Downriver Family YMCA, 16777 Northline Road in Southgate, is accepting toys in exchange for discounted membership.
In Wyandotte, the Goodfellows are trying to ensure no child without a Christmas by using income from donations from the sale of its annual newspaper to support needy families with children. Lawrence Stec, councilman and Goodfellows president, said he expects the group will spend about $25,000 this year, which would allow them to help roughly 150 to 175 needy families.
Andy Swiecki, Wyandotte Goodfellows secretary-treasurer, said the gift distribution will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 16 and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Copeland Center, 2306 Fourth St.
“We understand that this is not the best of times,” Swiecki said. “However, we want to help make this holiday season the best for families who may need a little help.”
In order to receive help, residents need to show a current driver’s license or identification, current lease or mortgage statement, current utility or cell phone bill, birth certificate and report card or letter from school verifying enrollment of all children, and proof of income.
The qualifying families will receive gift cards for toys and food to be used at Toys R Us and Shopper’s Valley. Families also can receive a gift card that can be used at either Meijer or St. Vincent De Paul to purchase clothes.
Anyone can nominate a family for help and can donate money or gifts to the Goodfellows. They can be contacted by mailing a letter to: Wyandotte Goodfellows, P.O. Box 392, Wyandotte, MI, 48192.
The city of Melvindale sponsors the “Project Warmth” program where residents can donate new hats, mittens and scarves to be given out to needy families in the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park school district. Donations can be made at City Hall between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday until Dec. 25. The donations will be placed under the “Giving Tree” inside the City Hall lobby.
The Melvindale Police Department is also in the Christmas spirit by hosting the “Shop with a Cop” program. The department doesn’t have a hand in the selection process, Police Lt. John Bajorek said, because they get a list of children from the high school and find officers to sponsor those children.
Officers will sponsor 12 families of needy children, Bajorek said, and take the children to Wal-Mart, 14900 Dix-Toledo Road in Southgate. The children will meet at the police station around 1 p.m. Dec. 15, before they ride in a caravan of police cars to Wal-Mart.
The officers give the children $50 to go shopping for whatever they want. When the families are chosen, the child’s family members are asked to make a wish list and the child gets to spend another $50 on each family member in the household.
Wal-Mart also donates gift cards, Bajorek said, so the family can get anything “above and beyond” what the child brings home. The store also provides a small Christmas party for the children. After the children leave, Bajorek said, they are taken to All American Buffet, 13753 Eureka Road, in Southgate to enjoy a free meal.
Angel Tree is in its 20th year after being started by Sue Hayward, a former Melvindale High School teacher, and funded through donations collected by the Sue Hayward Angel Fund.
Hayward began collecting donations from teachers to buy gifts for local children, MHS Director of Operations Rick Morley said, but the program grew rapidly after they began taking the money and allowing the children to shop with a high school student.
On Dec. 11, 150 high school students will accompany 150 elementary school students to Wal-Mart, 7555 Telegraph Road, in Taylor, so they can pick out toys, clothes or food. Morley said the elementary students will be able to spend $50 on anything they choose.
“One thing we found through the progression of this program is most of these children aren’t really buying presents for themselves,” he said. “They are buying presents for their parents or food and clothing. We started seeing that the kids weren’t excited to be handed money, but the excitement we saw as they were able to pick out whatever they want was priceless.”
The children also will go to the All American Buffet to have lunch. The high school students will wrap what the children bought and deliver them to the familes’ homes later that day.
MHS operations secretary Brittany Smith has volunteered as a program chaperone for several years and said the experience is “a very touching experience.”
“When everything is over with, it puts everything in perspective,” she said. “A lot of these kids probably don’t have many possessions and their happiness, in that moment, minimizes any other problem going on.
“These kids are so excited to buy a coat or a pair of boots. I love seeing their faces light up when they walk into the store and know they get to pick out something new.”
The one child she couldn’t forget, Smith said, came in and bought nothing but cereal because his family couldn’t afford the name brand cereal and he wanted them to have some for the holidays.
“It really is my favorite day of the year,” she said. “This program definitely showed me what Christmas is really about.”
Michigan State Police Second District Headquarters, 12111 N. Telegraph Road in Taylor, also is accepting toy donations 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until the end of the year for their Stuff a Blue Goose campaign.
“The Michigan State Police will be using their iconic patrol car — known as a blue goose — to help children across Michigan this holiday season,” Lt. Michael Shaw said. “Instead of troopers stuffing bad guys into the back seats of their blue gooses they are asking the public to place a new, unwrapped toy in their cars instead.”
(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at [email protected])