“Christmas Wonderland” dancers Michelle Attardo, Dominique Deninis and Sarah Kaye, who were performing at the Fisher Theatre as well as volunteering to help the Goodfellows — along with Officer Charles Staples, from the Detroit Police Department’s 6th Precinct — hand a box to Tatiana Turner, of Detroit, for her three children.

“Christmas Wonderland” dancers Michelle Attardo, Dominique Deninis and Sarah Kaye, who were performing at the Fisher Theatre as well as volunteering to help the Goodfellows — along with Officer Charles Staples, from the Detroit Police Department’s 6th Precinct — hand a box to Tatiana Turner, of Detroit, for her three children.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Detroit Goodfellows help bring Christmas to children

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published December 22, 2017

 Mike Jennings, president of the Detroit Goodfellows, shows off the numerous items the organization includes in its annual Christmas boxes that it gives to parents to ensure that children get gifts in their stockings.

Mike Jennings, president of the Detroit Goodfellows, shows off the numerous items the organization includes in its annual Christmas boxes that it gives to parents to ensure that children get gifts in their stockings.

Photo by Donna Agusti

DETROIT — For thousands of Detroit residents since 1914, Christmas means a Detroit Goodfellows gift box under the tree.

The Detroit Goodfellows are a nonprofit organization that works to aid those in need. Among their programs are dental care assistance, scholarships, shoes for children and summer camp programs. However, they are best known for the group’s longest running initiative: the Christmas gift box program.

“The gift box program began at almost the start of our 104-year history,” said Mike Jennings, the president of the Detroit Goodfellows. “The gift boxes contain presents for children, so even if their family is struggling, they can get gifts in their stockings each year. Our mission is ‘no kiddie without a Christmas.’ It’s important that no child feels they are forgotten.”

The Goodfellows are distributing 33,000 boxes this year. This is similar to last year; however; that number has increased from 30,000 in the last five years.

The boxes contain a variety of items to entertain, educate and provide necessities for children.

“Inside the boxes are warm clothing, like sweatshirts or sweatpants, warm gloves, socks, underwear, toys, a discovery book and a dental kit to go along with some candy,” said Jennings. “This year our doll dressers made more than 9,000 dolls to be included in the girls’ boxes. We include stuffed animals for the boys.”

Families register ahead of time so the organization can ensure they have enough boxes for everyone who signed up. Until Saturday, Dec. 16, parents can register at any one of the eight distribution sites to get a box, if there are any left. More information and distribution locations can be found at www.detroitgoodfellows.org.

The Detroit Police Department is among the staunchest supporters of the Goodfellows Christmas box program. It was originally Detroit police officers who delivered the boxes to homes. Although that method is no longer feasible, numerous members of the department still take an active role in collecting money and resources for use in the program.

“We’re taking a very active role in the Goodfellows distribution,” said Deputy Chief Todd Bettison, of the DPD. “Every year we solicit money and set up collections, because this is an important cause and it makes a big difference to people. I encourage everyone to support the Goodfellows, because you can see what they do for the community and the city.”

Bettison also said it is a great opportunity to reach out to people in the community and interact with residents in a friendlier context than patrolling an area or investigating a crime.

“It helps bridge the gap between residents and the police,” said Bettison. “I still have adults come up to me and talk about getting a Christmas because of Goodfellow packages and the police helping them. Even when discussing topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, people will point to this as an example of good work by the department. If someone helps you or helps your kids, you don’t forget that.”

Also included in the gift box program was the cast and crew of “Christmas Wonderland,” a musical production hosted by the Fisher Theater until Sunday, Dec. 17.

“We’re collaborating with the Goodfellows to hand out gifts to children, ensuring all kids get a Christmas,” said Dominique Deninis, the dance captain from the production. “Goodfellows reached out to us, and they asked if we would like to volunteer, and we were happy to oblige.”

The cast and crew got to spread Christmas cheer.

“It’s such a great concept and a beautiful cause,” said Deninis. “It’s a wonderful feeling to help others and makes you thankful for what you have. We want to thank Goodfellows for including us.”

Tatiana Turner, of Detroit, was among the thousands of parents who picked up boxes for their kids. She said the boxes help make sure her two daughters and her son have something under the tree.

“It helps us a lot because the boxes come with things my kids need, and not just things they want,” said Turner. “I’ve got Goodfellows boxes when I was a kid, and it always meant a lot, so I was sure to sign my own kids up.”

Jennings said giving out gifts to tens of thousands of children each year is far from easy, and the organization is still looking for donations. He stressed that all donated money goes directly to the program, as Goodfellows is an all-volunteer organization.

“We’re still working on reaching our goal of $1.1 million, and we’re at 57 percent of that total,” said Jennings. “We’re hoping to reach 100 percent by the end of January. We are asking for people’s help because the need never gets less.”

Donations can be made at www.detroitgoodfellows.org or by texting “#DETKIDS” to 56512.