Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores members Joe Wielgot, Debbie DePape, Pattie Wielgot, Kathy Rayner and Toni Dansbury stand by food to be packaged into Thanksgiving baskets in 2019.

Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores members Joe Wielgot, Debbie DePape, Pattie Wielgot, Kathy Rayner and Toni Dansbury stand by food to be packaged into Thanksgiving baskets in 2019.

Photo provided by Debbie DePape


Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores works to make holidays bright for local children

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 22, 2021

 A child visits with Santa Claus during the 2019 Santa Station. This year’s event will be held Dec. 11 at the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum.

A child visits with Santa Claus during the 2019 Santa Station. This year’s event will be held Dec. 11 at the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum.

Photo provided by Debbie DePape

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The holiday season is a busy time of year for the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores.

“It’s one activity after another. It’s our feel-good time,” said Club President Debbie DePape.

The club kicked off the holiday season with no-sew blanket-making parties for the Macomb Foster Care Closet and packing Thanksgiving food boxes for families in need. DePape said it’s not just Thanksgiving dinner they provide.

“It’s breakfast cereals, eggs, bread, potato chips, pretzels ... lunchmeat, cheese ... It’s everything to feed a family for a week,” she said.

Optimist Club Board member Joe Wielgot said he and his wife work in the grocery business, so they are in charge of purchasing the food, and sometimes, the companies they work for even make up for a lack of donations by supplying gift cards or food to the families.

“You want to give them at least a week where they can enjoy (themselves) because they’re having a hard time,” he said. “It’s all based on how well we’ve done for fundraising this year, and this year, we’re doing 12 families.”

He said they get the names of families who are in need of assistance from the three St. Clair Shores school districts because the Optimist Club focuses on helping children in the city.

“They know best who’s having the hardest times,” he said. “All the focus of the Optimists, throughout the year, is 95% family. We focus on the children and their families.”

Everything the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores does is a joint effort of the approximately 40 or 50 members, he said.

“It just makes you feel good that you can go out and help somebody,” he said. “From the Thanksgiving baskets to the scholarships, it’s all included, and it’s a joint effort of everybody.”

The Optimists were set to pack the Thanksgiving baskets Nov. 21, after press time, for delivery before the holiday.

After Thanksgiving, the club, along with the Junior Optimist clubs at Jefferson Middle School and Lakeview High School and the Miss St. Clair Shores Scholarship Program, also provides hot chocolate and doughnuts at the St. Clair Shores Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 3.

This year, the Optimist Club’s Santa Station is returning to the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum, located on 11 Mile Road behind the St. Clair Shores Public Library. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 11, during which time local children can visit with Santa inside the museum. The event will be socially distanced, and DePape said they are hoping to be able to have tents outside to provide shelter for waiting families.

Then, on Dec. 19, the Optimists, along with Santa and his elves, will deliver bikes to a dozen local children in the community.

“Santa and Mrs. Claus deliver the bikes; it is very nice,” said Optimist Club Board member Maureen Wark, who has been involved in the project for the past seven years. “All kids like to get a bike. It’s such a big-ticket item, and a lot of families can’t afford them.”

She said the children are always excited to have Santa Claus come to their house.

“The best reactions are when it’s a nice day and the kids can jump on the bike and ride them. That is really the best,” she said. “Everything that we do is for the kids.”

The Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores hosts fundraisers throughout the year to be able to give back at the holidays.

“It also helps that people we know, they want to give, and this gives them an avenue for (them) to give to the community, too,” added Wielgot.