Metro Detroiters volunteer to spread joy at Christmas
Detroit — Santa Claus came to the Paredones household on Christmas morning in the guise of a family of four, toting a bag stuffed with gifts.
Stunned at the early morning knock on the door, mom Alicia Paredones, dressed in Mickey Mouse pajamas, gleefully invited in the Lazar family — Howard, his wife, Wendy, and son, Alex, and daughter, Abby.
Three of Paredones’ four children, ages 6 through 11, were overjoyed by the goodies such as a colorful volleyball, stuffed animals, action figures and clothes, among other gifts.
“Happy, very happy,” said Paredones as she watched her children play with their gifts. “This Christmas is different from our past ones because it’s always been just us. This was such a surprise.”
Families like the Lazars, some Jewish, Muslim and Christian, branched out all over Detroit early Friday to play Santa Claus after gathering at St. Stephens Lutheran Church on the city’s southwest side.
The Lazars of Farmington Hills were delivering gifts to needy families Friday as part of Jimmy’s Kids, an effort coinciding with Mitzvah Day. Considered the single largest volunteer effort for Metro Detroit Jews, the longstanding initiative annually draws hundreds of helpers to partake in social service projects across the region.
Overall, more than 900 volunteers fanned out Friday across more than 40 sites in the area, said Micki Grossman, an event co-chair. “It was really terrific.”
The gifts Friday brought wide smiles and even tears to families struggling to provide for their children.
The Lazars also adopted two families on their own, they said.
Howard Lazar, 48, said he couldn’t think of anything better to do on Christmas than to provide gifts to children whose families don’t have money to buy their own.
He recalled recently celebrating his son’s bar mitzvah in the Caribbean on a cruise and realizing the blessings his family has.
“As you drive up and down the street (in the areas they visited), it lets everybody know how lucky we are,” Howard Lazar said.
“If you can do something and pay it forward in any way, shape or form, it’s well worth it.”
Wendy Lazar teared up. “No matter what holiday you celebrate, holidays are sharing it with other people,” she said.
The man behind Jimmy’s Kids 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 serve 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.”
A few hours later, volunteers at social services agency Southwest Solutions in Detroit gathered items like body wash, towels, clothes and blankets for veterans.
It has also been a tradition to serve the veterans Christmas dinner for the past five years, first sponsored by the American Legion motorcycle riders and now taken over by David Spiteri, 49, and his family.
Volunteers served turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and an assortment of desserts.
“We buy everything, cook it up and make it happen,” said Spiteri, who isn’t a veteran but wanted to honor their sacrifice to America.
“They deserve it. They put their life on the line for us. It’s the least we can do for them.”
Robert Vinson, 58, who served in the Army in Vietnam, said he felt thankful volunteers were giving to veterans in need on Christmas.
“Words really can’t describe how we feel about it because we are so appreciate of them doing this, which they don’t have to do,” Vinson said.
“I lost my parents ... I don’t really have a big family but I’ve got a family here.”
Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.