Jewish and Muslim volunteers deliver gifts to children in Detroit

On Christmas Day, Santa Claus delivered gifts to children in southwest Detroit.

Dressed in red, with a sack of goodies in tow, he greeted families on Saturday morning with a merry “Merry Christmas”.

“We hope to make you smile and make you feel a little bit loved,” he told Mandy Gutierrez and her family as they gathered around their doorstep.

Santa Claus – played by Ray Hillenbrand, 60, of Rochester Hills – was part of a caravan of about 100 volunteers who brought toys – basketballs, board games and stuffed animals – to about 250 families in the southwest of Detroit.

It’s a 20-year tradition, said Jimmy Tuman, founder and executive director of Jimmy’s Kids, the non-profit organization behind the Christmas Day donations.

“The people who come here – Christians, Jews and Muslims – come together, support each other, care for each other, care for each other. It really is a bit of world peace in southwest Detroit.” , said Tuman, 80. by Royal Oak.

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In the parking lot of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Detroit, bags of gifts were loaded into cars and en route to families “who don’t know we’re coming,” Tuman said.

Ray Hillenbrand, 60, of Rochester Hills dons his best Santa costume before handing out toys to unsuspecting families in southwest Detroit as part of Jimmy's Kids toy giveaway, a Mitzvah Day event, where volunteers from various faiths come together to help Detroit-area nonprofits on Christmas Day.  I

Howard Lazar has volunteered with Jimmy’s Kids for 11 years. It’s a reminder of the Hebrew phrase “Tikun Olam”, or fix the world, he said.

“I feel lucky to give back. I feel lucky to be able to do something that is outside of me,” said Lazar, 54, of Farmington Hills, who also brought his four children to volunteer.

It’s also a way for the Muslim community to give back, said Husain Haidri of Michigan Muslim Community Council.

“One of the other things that we recognize that is lacking in public discourse today is a certain empathy and that is the result of not being able to spend time with people who are not like you, or who do not pray. like you, so it’s really an exercise in some interfaith work and also an exercise in empathy, ”said Haidri, 21 from Canton.

The gift deliveries were part of Mitzvah Day, where volunteers of various faiths come together to help Detroit Metro nonprofits on Christmas Day. In its 25th year, Mitzvah Day is this time truly Mitzvah Weekend, December 24-26 to expand reach and provide alternatives for Jewish Sabbath-keeping volunteers.

Historically, Mitzvah Day has been Detroit’s Jewish community’s largest day of volunteering, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council / American Jewish Committee.

The word “mitzvah” means “commandment” in Hebrew and refers to doing a good deed.

The idea is to give a helping hand to associations during the holidays. The volunteer efforts4 span around 30 organizations across the Detroit subway, from before the weekend to Christmas Day itself, said Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council / American Jewish Committee Thursday.

Trinity Lutheran Church needed volunteers to serve breakfast and prepare lunch on Saturdays. Western Oakland Meals on Wheels has called on people to help deliver vacation meals to seniors in parts of the county.

Lopatin said on Sunday he planned to travel to Crossroads of Michigan social service agency with his children and stepfather to donate food.

“Even though Christmas is a Christian holiday, Mitzvah Day is a way to involve everyone in a celebration of humanity,” said Lopatin, rabbi of Kehillat Etz Chayim, a modern Orthodox congregation in Huntington Woods and Oak Park.

Ray Hillenbrand, 60, of Rochester Hills knocks on Mandy Gutierrez's door as she gathers her children to be surprised by Santa Claus.  The Loco family cat waits while Hillenbrand waits to distribute toys to the unsuspecting family in southwest Detroit.

Lopatin estimated between 300 and 600 volunteers to help over the holiday weekend.

“In Detroit, a lot of us live in different neighborhoods, different communities. We don’t mix together as much as we like. It really sounds like almost a flagship of our desire to do things together,” Lopatin said. .

Nushrat Rahman covers economic mobility issues for the Detroit Free Press and Detroit Bridge as a member of the corps with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Make a tax deductible contribution to support your work at bit.ly/freepRFA.

Contact Nushrat: [email protected]; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR. Register for Bridge Detroit newsletter. Become a Free Press subscriber.



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