Jimmy’s Kids prepares to help less fortunate on Christmas

Need is always there, so philanthropist keeps lending a hand

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published December 5, 2012

ROYAL OAK — From one man in a Santa suit in Detroit to thousands of volunteers delivering gifts by the bushel to families via a 26-foot truck, the past 23 years has seen the true Christmas spirit shine through for many volunteers involved with Jimmy’s Kids.

The nonprofit group was founded by Royal Oak resident Jim Tuman more than two decades ago after a 1989 trip to a Detroit classroom where Tuman delivered gifts to about 30 children.

“It started a year later. Some friends joined me and the snowball got rolling,” Tuman said. “We did battered women’s shelters to agencies to special events, and we did schools and churches. We’re a relatively small organization with thousands of volunteers.

“This is a labor of love. Christmas morning (delivery) was started only seven years ago. We had some extra toys and one of our volunteers started handing toys out of the back of a truck at Holy Redeemer in southwest Detroit.”

Since then, Jimmy’s Kids has expanded by great measures, collecting toys, clothing and food leading up to Dec. 25, when bags earmarked for specific Detroit families — agencies provide the names — are delivered.

“We show up unannounced to provide a surprise,” Tuman said. “It’s really a wonderful experience to see and be a part of.”

A speaker on teen suicide and teen violence prevention by day, Tuman’s role with Jimmy’s Kids is a 180-degree turn.

“I’ve talked to more than 2 million kids in more than 2,000 schools,” Tuman said. “For me, who deals with the deepest of crises in young people, seeing this side of our culture gives me wonder and hope. The idea that people show up and make things happen is just phenomenal to me, personally. We have just a gamut of people from all cross sections who are vested and involved.”

One man who has been helping out for the past half-dozen years is Royal Oak resident Jack Salter of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Michigan. His wife, Patti, has accompanied him each year.

“You get more out of it than they do,” Salter said. “You come home and realize how fortunate you are. The kids don’t know we’re coming. I look forward to that more than I do coming home for Christmas dinner.”

Salter said some recipients in past years have grown up and are now giving back to their former communities.

“Two years ago, a girl went with us,” Salter said. “She was a part of Jimmy’s Kids and she was a part of that neighborhood, and she overcame a lot of things and went to the University of Michigan. She went with us to translate.”

Tuman said some people are so moved by the experience that they do additional acts of kindness on their own. He said one kid and his aunt were volunteering to do deliveries one year and visited a double-amputee father in a wheelchair with five kids. After leaving and getting a few miles toward the next stop, the kid told his aunt to turn around and go back. Thinking he had left something behind, she did. Once they arrived, the kid gave his leather jacket, which he had just received as his own Christmas gift, to the disabled father.

“As people hear about it, they become invested,” Tuman said.

Volunteer efforts are a recurring theme for Tuman, who works year-round and has helped in Naples and Ethiopia, as well as lending Jimmy’s Kids’ hand following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. A New York native, Tuman said the group also plans to help out New York City after the Hurricane Sandy cleanup.

Jimmy’s Kids’ donations of toys and clothing are currently being collected at 11 different HoneyBaked Ham locations throughout Michigan, including Ferndale, Troy, Birmingham, Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield, Livonia, Roseville, Dearborn Heights, Canton, Taylor and Grand Rapids.

The group will be sorting the gifts at warehouses in Auburn Hills and Madison Heights both Dec. 8 and 15 before the Dec. 25 delivery, which will take place from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at 7744 W. Vernor, near Central, in Detroit.

No registration is required to volunteer, but anyone seeking more information, including addresses for the two sorting locations, can contact Tuman at (248) 585-1515 or visit www.jimmyskids.com.