Goodfellows get ready for season of giving

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 16, 2012

MADISON HEIGHTS — On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they’ll be at every major intersection in Madison Heights, wearing their bright orange vests and red hats.

They’re volunteers with the Madison Heights Goodfellows, and on Nov. 24, they’ll be handing out special-edition newspapers in exchange for free-will donations, which, along with corporate donations, will go 100 percent to the cause of generating food and Christmas gifts for families in need this holiday season.

“We are absolutely scrupulous about that,” said Madison Heights Mayor Pro Tem Robert Corbett, a long-time Goodfellows member. “All of the money goes to what it was intended for. We operate with zero overhead, and often members of our group will pull out of their own pockets to cover any additional expenses.”

The weeks leading up to Christmas are the time the Goodfellows are most active during the year, and the Thanksgiving weekend newspaper sale is just the opening salvo in a series of charitable deeds.

It starts with volunteers meeting at the Club Venetian, 29310 John R, across from the Kmart parking lot, by 9 a.m. Within 45 minutes, they’ll pick up their paper supplies and specially marked signs and disperse to the intersections. They’ll stick to their posts, while police and other volunteers help resupply them and pick up the cash throughout.

They work through the lunch hours and then wrap things up around 2-2:30 p.m., returning to the Club Venetian for a light coffee and lunch. Last year, around 50 people volunteered during the sale, including police officers who contributed time. Everyone is invited to help out as volunteers; simply show up, and they’ll tell you what to do.

The money raised helps pay for food, toys, shoes and clothing for families in need: one of the key ways the Goodfellows fulfill their motto of “No Child without a Christmas.” The Goodfellows also collect food at the city’s annual tree-lighting ceremony at Madison Heights City Hall, this year slated for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26.

Last year, they assisted around 200 families, which included nearly 500 kids. From 2000 through 2010, they helped nearly 1,500 families, spanning 3,500 kids.

“I think we all have been hoping and praying that the economic conditions would’ve turned around more by now, and they have, to a certain extent, but the fact is unfortunately we still have families sliding into poverty, despite the upturn,” Corbett said. “As a result, I couldn’t discern from the numbers that there’s any less demand this year, and unfortunately, I suspect that will be the case for some years to come.”

Most of the families they assist are found by way of referrals from the schools. Some families decline their offer, but for others, the Goodfellows make all the difference in keeping the holidays special during a tough year.

There’s the Shop with a Hero event, usually held at the local Meijer in early December, though a date hasn’t been finalized yet. At this invitation-only event, children from families helped by the Goodfellows go on a shopping spree for toys and clothing, accompanied by a Madison Heights police officer or firefighter.

“Some of the kids are very shy and laidback at first, but by the time they’re done shopping with a firefighter or policeman, they’re all smiles,” said Lori Fecteau of Madison Heights, vice-president of the Goodfellows.

Then there’s the Goodfellows’ regular distribution. Each family has an assigned number, which volunteers use to look up their order, as they assemble the gifts on an undisclosed day in the basement of the Madison Heights Police Department. Each child in the family gets a minimum of three gifts. Then the volunteers go to Meijer to buy an outfit for each child, plus any “special request” items that might be hard to find.

Once all of the gift assembly is done, the items are transferred to the apparatus room at the Madison Heights Fire Department. The recipient families then drive by and have their vehicles loaded up with the presents. The gifts are no longer wrapped, so the families can check to make sure their children got what they wanted.

More sponsors are always needed to help provide for the adopted families. Young volunteers are also needed to help put together the presents, Fecteau said.

“And when I say younger people, I don’t mean just teenagers, but young adults,” Fecteau said.  “We definitely, positively need new members.

“We do what we can. Hopefully we at least put a smile on a child’s face — a child who might otherwise not have something for Christmas.”

The Madison Heights Goodfellows will be selling special-edition newspapers at major intersections in Madison Heights from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24. Volunteers will meet at the Club Venetian, 29310 John R, across from Kmart, by 9 a.m.

For more information about the Goodfellows, including how to sponsor or volunteer, call (248) 837-2779 and leave a message.