Interfaith volunteers give back on Mitzvah Day

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Volunteers delivered gifts to homes of families found through local nonprofits and churches.

Detroit — Mitzvah Day had more helping hands for one its popular efforts on Christmas morning than any years prior. 

Starting in 1988 with only 22 kids at the time, Jimmy Tuman started and operated Jimmy's Kids out of his living room in hopes of giving back to families in need during the holidays. Each year, Tuman works with battered women's shelters, churches, nonprofits and programs to find families in southwest that need help giving their kids a Christmas and fills a truck with gifts for each family.

Hundreds of volunteers empty a donation truck to distribute to southwest Detroit families on Christmas.

"It just keeps growing and only by word of mouth," said Tuman, 77. "This year, we are helping 300 families who don't know we are coming and it's always a joyous surprise."

With help from the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, hundreds of volunteers empty the truck and deliver to those homes on Christmas. The day is named after a Hebrew term that also commonly refers to performing a good deed. 

"With our great group of interfaith volunteers, they go and meet the families and be part of them for a day," Tuman said. "I lived here and this is the poorest area of Detroit with a median income for a family of four is $12,000."

Mitzvah Day drew nearly 1,000 participants to about 40 sites across southeast Michigan this year. And to many who join each Dec. 25, the interfaith initiative has become the best way to not only give back but embrace a bond that has yielded another kind of gift. 

Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib, was one of the participants as she returned to her southwest neighborhood where she grew up. Mitzvah day has become a tradition for her and her son, Adam. 

Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib and her son Adam join Mitzvah Day giving back to southwest Detroit and the neighborhood she grew up in.

"This is my fifth time volunteering with Mitzvah Day because it's an incredible event and nice to see smiles and be Santa's elves on Christmas morning," Tlaib said.

Tlaib, born and raised in southwest Detroit, said the area is home to growing families. 

"What you should know about southwest Detroit is about 40 percent of the population in the area we are delivering to is children, 18 and younger," Tlaib said.

Muzammil Ahmed and Iltefat Hamzavi, board members of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, delivered gift bags with their children to two homes, one to the Hernandez-Ortiz family that has five kids ages 2 to 12. 

"It's so cool, they are going to be opening their presents and be excited finding books, balls and toys," said Ahmed, from Canton. "We've been doing this on Christmas for almost 10 years now with Jimmy's Kids. We love the generosity, working with social services to identify the families, fundraise and put the packages together."

Tuman said he smiled seeing they had helping hands lined up at 9 a.m. waiting for the truck with donations to arrive. 

"Lately, it's unprecedented the division of hatred going on ... Everyone wants to be right and that's just temporary, but not everyone wants to be kind, but being kind can be forever."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_