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The holidays arrived early for thousands of families in Detroit on Saturday when the Magic Johnson Foundation hosted its annual Holiday Hope, a relief effort aimed at supporting distressed Michigan families.

With lines of cars that stretched for miles, more than 2,000 families received food, holiday trimmings, coats, essential living items and toys from volunteers at Second Ebenezer Church on Detroit’s east side where an assembly-line style system delivered the goods into welcoming hands.

The foundation teamed up with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan to provide families with the items. Vouchers were provided to families identified by the Boys and Girls Club and Second Ebenezer Church, Tiffany Wysinger with the Magic Johnson Enterprises, said.

“We know there are people in need out there. We know people are struggling to meet these needs and we want to take away that burden during the holidays,” said Michael Parr, compliance officer with UnitedHealthcare.

There were four lines of cars backed up to Interstate 75 where families received turkeys, canned soups, paper products, toys, books and other items. The items were donated through partners that included Feed the Children, Meijer and Pepsi.

“Some of these folks have been waiting for a long time,” Parr said.

Angela Fenderson was a volunteer on Saturday, greeting smiling men, women and children who sat inside their cars awaiting the food donation.

“People are excited and anxious. It’s a pleasure to work out here and serve the community,” Fenderson, 41, of Detroit, said.

UnitedHealthcare’s three-year partnership with the foundation was expanded this year to include Flint with an additional $30,000 grant by the health care company.

The foundation was founded by basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson in 1991. It has donated more than $14 million since inception.

Johnson was at the Flint event on Saturday and will be at the Holiday Hope event in Lansing on Sunday. The three day event is expected to help 4,800 families.

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Food Bank Council of Michigan announced that donations for the 26th Annual Michigan Harvest Gathering Giving Campaign reached $308,000 and 403,000 pounds of food.

The donations will provide 2.2 million meals to families across Michigan.

“While many of us are looking forward to a Thanksgiving table overflowing with food, many families in Michigan don’t know where there next meal is coming from,” said Schuette. “My wife Cynthia and I founded the Michigan Harvest Gathering with the hope of ending hunger in Michigan. I want to thank everyone who has joined us in that goal and made the 26th year such a success.”

Other events around Metro Detroit include:

WWJ Newsradio 950, along with the Detroit Police Department, are welcoming the return of Sergeant Santa: a task force to collect and distribute thousands of toys to kids in need throughout Detroit.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, the Detroit Police Department and WWJ’s Jackie Paige will deliver new toys on a “Santa Sleigh” caravan to families in Detroit on Dec. 15.

To help, now through Dec. 12, stop by any Detroit Police Department Precinct or the Midtown Detroit, Troy or Plymouth XFINITY Stores by Comcast during regular business hour and drop off a new, unwrapped toy.

For more information visit wwj.com/sergeantsanta

JChambers@detroitnews.com

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