Holiday baskets bring Christmas cheer

Community comes together to help those in need

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published December 23, 2015

 Among the volunteers helping to sort the goods for the Hazel Park holiday baskets Dec. 11 was Isabella Taylor, 11, from Hazel Park Junior High.

Among the volunteers helping to sort the goods for the Hazel Park holiday baskets Dec. 11 was Isabella Taylor, 11, from Hazel Park Junior High.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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HAZEL PARK/FERNDALE — It was two weeks before Christmas, and “Santa’s elves” were hard at work on the Hazel Park holiday baskets.

They went about the task at hand with good cheer, knowing the packages they were assembling would bring joy to struggling families in Hazel Park Public Schools, which includes part of Ferndale. The baskets are something they’ve consistently done for more than 30 years.

“The people of Hazel Park are so generous,” said Sherrie Polowski, chair of the Hazel Park Holiday Baskets Committee. “We always try to hit a goal of 10,000 (items collected), and we hit that goal every year.”

By mid-morning Dec. 11, the walls of the gymnasium at Webb Elementary in Ferndale were lined with all kinds of goods: Nonperishable food, winter clothing, and stacks of brand-new books, board games and toys, including enduring favorites like Mr. Potato Head, Candy Land, Operation, Jenga and more.

They had been gathered up from nearly a dozen collection sites across the city and delivered to the gym via SERVPRO of Hazel Park.

Students from Hazel Park Junior High and Jardon School helped sort them onto tables, working alongside school officials, city officials and community volunteers.

But sorting was only half of what needed to be done. Each basket — or rather, each box — had to be prepped with staple items including a cereal box and a $10 Kroger gift card. A Dearborn holiday ham was added to each box during distribution the next day. And that’s when the recipients went down the line and stocked up on nonperishable food items, as well as board games for their children and winter wear including hats, scarves, mittens and more.

This year, around 260 baskets were assembled from around 15,000 items. Of those 15,000, more than 2,400 items were collected at the district’s administration building alone. Other collection sites included Hazel Park City Hall, the Hazel Park Fire Department and each of the schools. In addition, brand-new socks were collected at Hazel Park United Methodist Church.

“It’s amazing to see the work being done here,” said Amy Kruppe, superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools. “But I already knew that about Hazel Park. Great people, great hearts.”

“There’s no town like Hazel Park in terms of generosity,” agreed Ed Klobucher, Hazel Park’s city manager, clutching cans of tuna and salmon as he and other volunteers from City Hall helped sort the items that had arrived via SERVPRO. “In Hazel Park, people help their neighbors, and this is another manifestation of that. That’s why I’m proud to call Hazel Park my home.”

He noted that while Hazel Park was hit especially hard by the foreclosure crisis and recession, the residents still come forward to help out with donations, and they still supported proposals such as the SMORSA fire authority and the police millage renewal out of concern for the common good. Times are now improving in Hazel Park, and the city is making a dramatic comeback, with improving property values and flourishing new businesses. But the trials that residents faced in the past showed their strong character, he said.

“This is a community that always finds resources to help those who are less fortunate,” Klobucher said. “There’s a tremendous sense of community spirit. This is who we are in Hazel Park.”

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