Goodfellows raise $41K to ensure Christmas for kids

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — A streetcorner newspaper sale in downtown and Midtown Detroit on Monday raised more than $41,000 toward the Detroit Goodfellows' goal that there be "no kiddie without a Christmas" this holiday season, the organization announced Tuesday.

The organization's 103rd annual sales day generated $41,378 in donations, which brings the local Goodfellows' fundraising efforts this year to $441,638. Its goal, which it hopes to reach by Jan. 31, is $1.1 million. The money goes to fund some 34,000 gift packages for area youth in need.

Sales day ends in a parade, and Monday's was no different. Detroit Police Chief James Craig took part in his third parade as police chief Monday, calling the work of the Goodfellows “good for our community, giving back during the holiday season.”

“The city’s in need. We’re certainly still struggling with poverty and, in some cases, hopelessness,” Craig continued. “When we can bring some cheer, particularly to a child, that’s what we should be about.”

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said that “so many people I’ve worked with over the years have benefited from the Goodfellows, back 50, 60 years ago.”

Conrad Koski is not one of them, but was a beneficiary in that time frame. Koski, the oldest of four children, was just 8 when his father, Conrad Koski, a Detroit police officer, died in a car crash with a friend and colleague before Thanksgiving Day in 1953.

“I don’t even know how they got our names,” Koski said, but the organization’s generosity brightened an otherwise sad holiday season, he said. “We got Goodfellows packages for a few years.”

Koski, now an accountant, remembers seeing officers approach his door with packages — “ugly brown boxes,” he recalled.

“We’ve prettied the box up over the years,” Koski, who’s been part of the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows Fund of Detroit for more than 30 years, serving a past president. He handles purchasing and distribution.

The 34,000 gift packages are given to area children ages 4-13, and are age and gender specific. Girls age 4-9 get one of the 10,000 dolls that more than 500 volunteers dress at their own expense.

The doll tradition dates back to 1924, Detroit Goodfellows President Robert Costello said. In those days, employees of the high-powered department stores of downtown Detroit would dress the dolls. These days, those opportunities are more widespread. There is no male equivalent of the dolls.

Filling those boxes with about 20 items each costs about a million dollars, Costello said. The paper-peddling and parade are a public face on fundraising work that goes year-round.

Purchasing for each holiday season starts that February. Items needed for the gift packages include 100,000 age appropriate books, 34,000 dental kits, 28,000 pairs of sweatpants, 4,900 pairs of ski mittens and thousands of other items ranging from race car sets to ear buds to wind-up tropical fishes, all designed to protect or put smiles on the faces of youth in financial need.

Said Evans: “If you’re not going to have a lot of ‘up’ days, let (Christmas) be one of them.”

“Goodfellows!” Dr. Mike Jennings, a dentist with a practice in St. Clair Shores, bellowed as he stood on the corner of West Grand and Second on Monday morning.

Wordlessly, a trench coat-wearing man handed Jennings several dollars, and got a Detroit News in exchange.

Jennings turned to an observer and said, “No kiddie without a Christmas,” the slogan of the organization he’s been a part of for more than a decade. He’s on the Goodfellows board as well.

Jennings is but one member of a largely elderly, white-haired army hawking newspapers Monday morning, like the newsboys of old used to do, at street corners and in front of buildings in downtown and Midtown Detroit.

The dentist recalled a conversation with Goodfellows member and Detroit News alum Pete Waldmeir that made him want to get more involved.

“He’s telling me about their gift packages — they’ve got warm socks, underwear, candy, toys, all these great things, but no dental kit,” Jennings said of the conversation from more than a decade ago.

Jennings made that his mission, and in collaboration with Delta Dental, the University of Detroit Dental School and other dental supply businesses, and dental kits including a toothbrush, toothpaste and a timer — so kids know they’re brushing for the recommended two minutes — have all been standard in the Christmas kits ever since.