Detroit — Mari’a Gambrell reached for a large gift box filled with warm clothing, toys and candy.
She glanced up and smiled at her great aunt, Andrea Beecham, who had pre-registered for the gifts for the young girl and her siblings.
“I really like this because they have such nice things inside,” said Mari’a, 9, of Detroit. “And what I like the best inside the box is the candy.”
Mari’a and her great aunt were participating Wednesday in the annual Detroit Goodfellows holiday gift box distribution.
It was held at the Randolph Career & Technical Center.
The Goodfellows’ executive director, Sari Klok, and president, Mike Jennings, were joined by Detroit police officers, Detroit Deputy Police Chief Todd Bettison and cast members of “Christmas Wonderland” to distribute the gift boxes to local families in need.
Volunteers will distribute 34,000 holiday gift boxes to needy children ages 4-13 in Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Harper Woods and River Rouge.
The Detroit Police Department has been involved with the Goodfellows programs since the organization’s inception in 1914.
“I’m here representing Chief James Craig, and we’ve also got four neighborhood police officers here volunteering,” Bettison said. “We’re here to make sure none of our children are forgotten, and that hopefully, every kid in Detroit will have a nice Christmas.”
Naila Patterson, 33, of Detroit, came to pick up gift boxes for her three sons, who are ages 13, 10 and 6.
It brings back memories of her childhood at Christmas.
“My mother had 13 kids, and she would get Goodfellow boxes for us every year,” she said. “So even though these boxes are for my children, I was excited to be able to come down and get them because I remember how much I enjoyed getting a gift box.”
Among the volunteer cast members from the “Christmas Wonderland” holiday spectacular was dancer Dominique Dennis, 25, of New York.
“It is important that before our show, we volunteer with the local Goodfellows because we want to give back to the community that gave us the theater to perform in,” she said. “I feel so grateful for what I had as a child, and I’m happy to give back to underprivileged children in Detroit.”
“Christmas Wonderland” features glittering costumes and high-kicking chorus girls at the Fisher Theatre through Dec. 17 for nine shows.
Klok said the Randolph Center is one of eight locations throughout Detroit distributing gift boxes through Saturday.
“We have the boxes organized for boys and girls from ages 4 to 13,” she said. “People pre-register for the gift boxes, and then we send out letters each fall to ask if they’re interested in receiving a gift box the following year.”
Jennings has worked with the organization for about 14 years.
“These holiday gift boxes make a difference for children,” he said. “It lets them know they’re not forgotten, and that they’re important.”