The boxes are filling up at the Farmington Area Goodfellows warehouse in Farmington Hills, to ensure no child or senior goes without a Christmas.
Volunteers have been sorting thousands of items in donated space at 37777 Interchange Drive since the day after Thanksgiving. The non-perishable food items, books, and toys will go out on December 21 to 148 families, while boxes of food, paper goods, and other items go to 35 developmentally challenged adults and 80 seniors.
Vince Ziegler, a former Farmington Public Safety officer, has been volunteering – and recruiting volunteers – since he retired in 2004.
During a lunch break, he and friends John Coyle, a 2006 Farmington Public Safety retiree, Dennis Brills, a retired Farmington Hills Police officer, and Tom Ward, a retired Farmington Public Safety reserve officer, talked about the fun and camaraderie they’ve enjoyed over the years.
But something else keeps them coming back.
“It’s all for a good cause,” Ziegler said, “that’s really the reason. You know that you’re helping people who are going through hard times.”
Applications down, need for donations up
Goodfellows president Richard Lerner said Monday that fewer volunteers work in the warehouse now, but about 200 drivers, or “Reindeer”, are needed on Saturday. This year, they’ll have fewer boxes to deliver.
Applications for help are down by about 20 this year, even though all families served last year were contacted and all Farmington Public Schools Headstart program families received Goodfellows information.
Numbers that Ziegler compiled for 2018 show more than 26,000 usable food items went into 490 boxes (each recipient gets two boxes, larger families get an extra box). That was also down from 2017, when more than 28,000 items went into 546 boxes.
Cash donations running behind
One reason may be an improved economy, Lerner said. Some of the previous applicants who declined help this year even made a contribution to the drive.
The organization also relies on cash donations to provide families with grocery and department store gift cards. This year, they’re running behind – way behind.
“We are down on donations,” Lerner said. “We’re still hoping, there’s still another week to go, but we’re short about $10,000. And you can’t keep doing that for very long.”
The organization accepts donations online at goodfellows.info, or you can mail a check to Farmington Area Goodfellows, 31455 W. 11 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48336.
Changes coming in 2020
Expect to see some changes next year in the 70-year-old nonprofit. In addition to some restructuring, the Goodfellows will take over western Wayne and western Oakland Toys for Tots. Regional coordinator Rebecca Yarbrough will retire after 30 years of service.
Volunteer Barb DuRei will coordinate Toys for Tots for the Goodfellows, with collections that span 14 communities – and donations going right back into those areas, mostly through churches and other nonprofits.
For now, everyone’s focused on the final week of this year’s drive. Everything set up the day after Thanksgiving – from old doors on sawhorses to new, labeled plastic bins – will be packed away into large containers and stored.
During the holiday drive, Lerner said, almost nothing goes to waste. Some organizations will take expired food items, and once a year, Goodfellow Tom Brown transforms all the severely dented canned goods into a pot of chili served up in the warehouse kitchen.
Farmington Deli, Panera Bread, Page’s Food & Spirits, Peterlin’s Restaurant, Bunchy’s, Grand Tavern, and John Cowley & Sons, also donate lunches in the weeks leading up to delivery day.
Come Saturday at 9 a.m., drivers will line up at the warehouse as Farmington High hockey players and other volunteers load boxes into their vehicles. Inside, students and adults will sit together around a table, writing thank you notes to donors.
Deliveries to those 200-some homes take about an hour and a half to complete.
“And everything (you see here) is gone in 72 hours (from now),” Lerner said.
Correction: The address of the warehouse was incorrectly reported in the original version of this post.