Hailey Reed-Mecham and Mackenzie Feltner, seventh-graders from Hazel Park Junior High, check the expiration dates on food items being organized at Webb Elementary in Ferndale Dec. 14 for the Hazel Park Holiday Baskets.

Hailey Reed-Mecham and Mackenzie Feltner, seventh-graders from Hazel Park Junior High, check the expiration dates on food items being organized at Webb Elementary in Ferndale Dec. 14 for the Hazel Park Holiday Baskets.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Hazel Park pulls through for families in need this holiday

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 19, 2018

 Martel Blair, a seventh-grader at Hazel Park Junior High, helps organize the food.

Martel Blair, a seventh-grader at Hazel Park Junior High, helps organize the food.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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HAZEL PARK/FERNDALE — It’s an enduring tradition in Hazel Park Public Schools: When the holidays roll around, volunteers roll up their sleeves and arrange baskets of games, toys, books, clothes, food and more, all with the goal of providing a merry Christmas for families in need.

The items are donated by individuals and businesses. The volunteers who gathered in the gym at Webb Elementary in Ferndale to assemble the baskets Dec. 14 came from all walks of life, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, retired school personnel and more, some of them reconnecting and catching up at the event, which has been ongoing for at least 35 years.

Once the Hazel Park Holiday Baskets are assembled, they’re distributed the next day. The recipients show up at the school — some with kids in tow, although kids who aren’t from families in need aren’t there, for privacy reasons — and then they choose the items they need.

This year, 175 families received baskets.

“The need is actually down (from around 250 recipients in past years), which is wonderful. That means there are more people who are doing better (than) in recent years,” said Sherrie Polowski, chairperson of the committee for the baskets. “But there is still a need, and we want to make sure we help those who are in need.”

Each basket contained a new toy for each child, which was a new addition last year that proved to be a huge hit. There were still board games and books, as well as new socks, gloves, mittens and hats, and a roll of wrapping paper. A local dentist donated toothbrushes and toothpaste this year. Each box also featured cereal and nonperishable goods, as well as baked items from Panera Bread, a gift card for Kroger, and a holiday ham, bundled separately.

Applications started Nov. 5 and ran through Dec. 3, and were available at any of the schools in the school district, which includes parts of Ferndale. The applications could be picked up at any of the school buildings, as well as at the administration building and the Hazel Park District Library.

Many donations came from businesses, which the people on the basket committee contacted directly this year, going door to door with fliers, which Polowski said was excellent for networking. One business decided to donate to the baskets instead of holding its usual Secret Santa.

Once the donations came in, the work was only beginning.

“We have to sort out all the goods, and get other stuff out of storage. So it’s a lot of work before we even begin packing everything,” Polowski said. “We rely on our community to bring in our nonperishable items — parents, students — and it’s wonderful they all contribute. And then there is our staff, our teachers, our superintendent — it all starts at the top, and they’ve been so supportive. And we even get the kids involved. Right now, we have some fifth-graders down here (helping pack the baskets at Webb Elementary Dec. 14), so they’re learning about giving, and giving back.”  

Amy Kruppe, superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools, said that she feels inspired by the event’s gentle spirit.

“That’s the beautiful thing about the city of Hazel Park, how the people here are always willing to give to one another,” Kruppe said. “Today (Dec. 14) is about packing together, and the kids getting to experience that. Tomorrow, we’ll have more community members and administrators and spouses working together to give out the baskets.

“And we can’t stress enough at this time in our world the importance of kindness. It’s important that we show our kindness through giving back. And what more profound way than in our community,” she said. “And you don’t have to be known for it. Many of these people donating cans and money aren’t doing it for accolades; they’re doing it because they care. They might not have extra dollars, but they know their neighbors might need it more. It’s just such a great way to enter the final stretch of the holidays.” 

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