Keith Mosa-Basha smiled at the little girl, who couldn't have been more than three or four, telling her she was very beautiful. She beamed back at him, eyes wide, staring at the presents he and his friends had just delivered to her door on Christmas morning.
Mosa-Basha and four other Muslim Metro Detroiters were among those who woke up early Thursday, volunteering to play Santa for needy children in Southwest Detroit and some of the city's other hardest-hit neighborhoods. It's part of an annual effort across the region to bring together Muslims, Jews and Christians to do "mitzvahs" or good deeds on one of the Christian faith's most important days.
"It's heartwarming," said the Bloomfield Hills resident. "The biggest cure for depression is being able to make a child smile."
Tarik Baraka, another volunteer from West Bloomfield, said giving back is an essential part of any faith and an important to being a good member of the community.
"The main goal is to promote unity amongst the faiths to share in something common to all of us," said Baraka, a representative of the Michigan Muslim Community Council. "The best way to do that is through community service."
"Honestly," added volunteer Firas Imam, of Troy, "It benefits us more than them."
Hundreds of people gathered early Christmas morning at St. Stephens Church on Detroit's southwest side to pick up presents to deliver through the Jimmy's Kids program.
The Jimmy in that is Jim Tuman, a motivational speaker who started the program in 1988 with presents for 22 special needs children at a local school. Since then, it's grown to thousands of children.
"I love playing Santa Claus and helping the kids," said Tuman, who is Jewish. "These volunteers represent the balance of love. There's so much hate out there, but here you have Christians, Jews and Muslims working together."
Jacki Saucillo, who grew up and still lives in Southwest Detroit, says she sees the difference events like this can have on a community.
"It's important to give back to this community," she said. "This gives me hope."
For his part, Tuman sees it as the start of endless possibilities.
"For a couple of hours, this is a tiny corner of world peace," he said, "and the hope of what's possible."
Bringing cheer to animals
They named her Hope because she didn't have any.
Southfield Animal Control dropped her off. She was old, abandoned, hurting and barely able to breathe. Most shelters would have immediately euthanized her.
But for the folks at Almost Home Animal Rescue League, giving up on a dog is just not an option. They don't put animals down unless they are suffering and would have no quality of life.
"We don't discriminate against old dogs, big dogs," said shelter general manager Marla Weingarten. "We're unlike any other shelter in Michigan."
They rushed Hope to the vet, where she was treated and diagnosed with leg injuries, kidney and liver disease and an infection. She's much better now, although still on a lot of medication. Hope is a husky, probably around 12 years old. For now, she's living in a dog cage in the front of the office at the shelter. She doesn't even need what the shelter would call a "forever family."
"She's just an old girl who needs to live out the rest of her life in a good foster home," said Weingarten.
On Christmas Day, Hope and many of the shelter's other 50-60 adoptable animals were visited by Jewish and Muslim volunteers, helping out to make sure the animals were still taken care of even though it's a holiday.
"Most of the people here are Christians and they deserve to spend their day with their families," said Noa Alterman of Franklin, who walked Romeo, a maltese/ shitzu mix. She and her family have volunteered on Christmas in the past doing other things, but the shelter seemed like a good fit.
"I love dogs," she said.
Samah Chamamit appeared to prefer the cats. She and her son Eissa Haydar played with the felines in their trailer: socializing, petting, cuddling. Every year, the family spends Christmas volunteering and giving back to others.
"We don't celebrate Christmas, so this is a way for us to have fun, help out and feel good," said the Canton resident. "It's like you're not celebrating, but in a way, you are."
"It feels good," added her 11-year-old son. "It's fun."
As for Hope, Weingarten says she could really use a sponsor, someone who could help offset some of her medical expenses while she waits for the special someone who will let her live out the rest of her days as a happy, carefree dog.
"She needs a lot of care," she said. "We just want to find her a home."
Jimmy's Kids at St. Stephens Church in Detroit is looking for volunteers to run toy drives during the year. To learn more or to donate, visit http://www.jimmyskids.com or call (248) 585-1515. Almost Home Animal Rescue League needs volunteers, foster families, adoptive families and donations of supplies. To learn more, visit www.almosthomeanimals.org or call (248) 200-2695. Donations via check can be sent by mail to the shelter at 25503 Clara Lane, Southfield, MI 48034.