Detroit Phoenix Center gifts Christmas to children experiencing poverty, homelessness

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Eastpointe — Neveah Holmes peeked into her family's gift bag from the Detroit Phoenix Center, the 8-year-old Detroiter was thrilled with what she found. 

"It's a dollhouse! I'm going to put it together with the other one I have to make it even bigger."

Her mother Danielle Holmes was even more thrilled with her present: the first-month security deposit needed to get her family into a new place. 

"We have a home for the holiday," the 32-year-old said as her other children drank hot cocoa nearby.

On Saturday, the Detroit Phoenix Center answered the Christmas wishes of dozens of Metro Detroit children and their families experiencing poverty and transitioning from homelessness at its annual holiday event. 

Natalya Jackson, 7, gives Santa Claus (portrayed by Jorelle Dickerson of Mount Clemens) a huge hug as her father Melvin Jackson, left, holds her brother Elijah Jackson, 11-months-old, all of Detroit, as they pass by after receiving Christmas gifts. Jorelle's mother, Joanie Dickerson portrayed Mrs. Claus.

The Detroit nonprofit supports 150 youths year-round in various ways, including emergency shelter and education and mental health resources. On this day, the center offered an outdoor event where children and their families received gift bags of toys, personal protection equipment, needed household items and $110 Foot Locker gift cards.

The pandemic has only made things harder for many local families, and the group was committed to providing some relief. 

"It's been a challenging year for many of these families," Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center, said. "Many would not get a Christmas. We're here to spread that holiday spirit to them."

Outside the Eastpointe Foot Locker, Aidan Rucker, 8, of Detroit showed off the toy car in his gift bag that had been on his wish list, saying, "I am going to race it around the house with my brother."

Elijah Jackson, 11-months-old, takes a break in the arms of his father, Melvin Jackson, both of Detroit, before they receive gifts.

The gifts are a relief to parents like Detroiter Valerie Rucker, 62. "It's a huge help. COVID has taken a lot money. The kids are in quarantine, doing school at home. They are eating a lot more, and food stamps just don't cover it."

Thanks to foundation and community donors, Detroit Phoenix Center funded clothing, toys, a bike, and household necessities such as a vacuum that were on the families' wish lists. Detroit native hip-hop artist Christian A. Mathis — known by his stage name Trick Trick — handed out the presents.

Foot Locker's community store funded $16,000 in gift cards. The donation is a part of the location's mission to give back to the community each month, said Don Dudley, marketing manager for Foot Locker Detroit.

"Sneakers are expensive," he said. "We wanted to help families out with that, and kids all want to choose exactly what they want."

Detroit Phoenix Center Founder and CEO Courtney Smith prepares to hand out gift bags.

In addition to receiving the gifts, children took photos with Santa Claus and drank hot chocolate with colorful sprinkles. The families received pre-packaged meals with baked wings, green beans, mac and cheese and a dessert from Detroit's Royster's Gourmet Catering Co. donated by several small businesses, including branding firms According to Kori and Erin on Demand, Professional Delivery Service, TherapySpa and Titus Delivery. The businesses also are paying for furniture for one of the families who is receiving rent assistance from the Detroit Phoenix Center.

"We didn't have a lot growing up," said Tegest Hatcher, who owns Warren-based Inc. delivery business Professional Delivery Service with her husband, Fred. "Now that we have our own small businesses, we wanted to help others."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble