How the Grinch helped Hazel Park Youth Assistance

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 7, 2021

  The Grinch appeared at various locations around town, including Hazel Park First United Methodist Church, during the Hazel Park Youth Assistance’s first “Grinched” event Dec. 18.

The Grinch appeared at various locations around town, including Hazel Park First United Methodist Church, during the Hazel Park Youth Assistance’s first “Grinched” event Dec. 18.

Photo provided by Ryann Voss

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HAZEL PARK — Once upon a time, the Grinch tried to steal Christmas. But last month, he helped Hazel Park Youth Assistance to brighten the holidays instead.

On Dec. 18, the two teamed up, packing Grinch-themed surprise gift bags at the Hazel Park Recreation Center for those in need of a little pick-me-up.

The Grinch — actually played by 17-year-old Payton Poteat, of Madison Heights, in a furry bodysuit — was the star of the “Grinched” event, the first of its kind by the HPYA. Payton’s mom, Ryann Voss, helped design the gift bags.  

During the day, the two traveled around Hazel Park, Payton’s Grinch posing for photos and videos they posted to Facebook, helping to promote the deliveries, which included gifts for recipient families with children.

“The response from the community has been amazing,” Voss said.

Beverly Hinton, the chair of the HPYA, said that she assembled the list of recipients by asking people in the community for the addresses of families — no names were collected — and also the number of children in each home.

“We decided on 100 (homes) because of finances, and this was doable for delivery,” Hinton said. “Because of COVID, we did not have a party, and we did not want 100 people coming to pick this up.”

Donations came in from the Hazel Park First United Methodist Church, Wilson & Wilson P.C., Landmark Community Church, the Kozy Lounge, the teachers union at the Hazel Park Public Schools, and several residents, including a retired teacher.

The value of each bag was $30, and each included a $10 food certificate, stuffing, canned veggies, instant potatoes, spaghetti and sauce, pudding, applesauce, popcorn, crackers, cookies, candy canes, hot chocolate, juice, a deck of cards, and a puzzle or activity book.

Fifteen volunteers mobilized to pack and deliver the goods. Among those helping out for several hours were Hazel Park firefighters, City Manager Ed Klobucher and his wife, Judge Brian Hartwell and his wife, as well as committee members of the Hazel Park Youth Assistance, and Ryann and her daughters.

“All had a great time working together,” Hinton said.

She said that the event was created in the spirit of the Hazel Park Holiday Baskets, a tradition that was disrupted due to the pandemic.

“When people are in the greatest need, I felt it was important to do something for the people here in Hazel Park,” Hinton said. “I thought, HPYA is about kids, so we could narrow this down to them, and it wouldn’t be charity because we would not take applications asking about income.

“The Grinch theme was perfect with COVID, because people are stuck (indoors), kids are not going to school, and the Grinch was about his heart growing three times its size caring about others, and he brought a lot of joy to Whoville when he returned the presents, so I thought, who couldn’t use a little joy now with the COVID situation,” Hinton said. “So the program became about fun.”

The HPYA has not had any other programs this year due to COVID, she noted.

“Before this (pandemic) hit, we purchased a beautiful little beagle as a therapy dog and named her Hazel. We had many plans with her. However, this has not come to fruition due to the pandemic,” Hinton said.

The holiday event helped brighten what had been a dismal year for community groups everywhere. Hinton said the family photos posted to Facebook of the smiles on children’s faces made the effort all worthwhile.

She said people can call if they wish to volunteer in the future, when things begin to return to normal:  (248) 582-9125. The group operates in an office at the Webster Early Childhood Center, although no one is currently there due to the pandemic. Still, someone is checking the voicemail messages.

The HPYA helps to address substance use and abuse among teens and young adults in the community. The nonprofit has operated in Hazel Park since 1953. It was the start of a model that has since been replicated in school districts across Oakland County.

Voss said she’s proud to have been part of an event that made so many people happy.

“Both of these women, Bev and Payton, are deserving of some recognition in a big way — Hazel Park Youth Assistance and the volunteers behind the scenes as well,” Voss said. “But those two are the reason why this event was so successful.” 

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