By Carol Stiffler
When the Great Depression threatened to take Christmas cheer away from children, a group of Newberry men joined ranks to keep the magic in Christmas. They became the Goodfellows, and the group has been focused on Christmas ever since.
They’re still at work with the same mission, though they are now a team of women. The mission is the same: make Christmas happy for children. Each child on the list Goodfellows receives from DHS gets a wrapped Christmas present. These days, their families also receive prepaid grocery vouchers redeemable at either Rahilly’s IGA or Mac’s SuperValue.
Last year, before coronavirus was a household topic, Goodfellows helped 885 individuals at Christmas, including 230 families and 252 senior citizens.
Now that COVID-19 is in its second wave across the nation, the need for assistance is even greater.
“I think this year it will be crucial,” said Mary Archambeau, who leads the organization.
The Tahquamenon Area Senior Citizens makes a large donation annually to cover costs of food; this year they donated $10,000. Community businesses and individuals are asked to cover the costs for toys. Toy drop-off boxes pepper the area, located in grocery stores, dollar stores, drug stores, and more.
Ninety years in, the group is at a critical junction. While need for their help is only increasing, volunteers in the organization are at an all-time low. There are only five or six active members and Archambeau, the driving force, is retiring in February. Her health demands it, even if her heart isn’t ready.
“I am not in good health and I can’t continue,” Archambeau said, who has volunteered with Goodfellows for 35 years. She started helping, she said, to teach her daughters the importance of assisting the community. They’re still working with her in the Goodfellows today.
The Goodfellows are not a secretive organization, and there’s very little to do most of the year. The entire focus of the group is to make the holiday season happier.
“What we need is for this to be carried forward,” Archambeau said. “This isn’t a lot of work. Most of the year you’re just collecting the money.”
Archambeau is sincerely hoping that some people who were recipients of help from the Goodfellows in the past will step forward to assist the group now.
Perhaps the community is forgetting who the Goodfellows are, and what they do. Archambeau has watched as donation bins stay mostly empty during the holiday shopping season, and she’s not sure why.
“Last year, there were very few presents in the drop boxes,” Archambeau said. “I picked up mostly empty boxes. I was amazed.”
Gift donations have been very low for the past couple years, she said.
“I know there’s kids out there that do need the help; families that do need the help,” Archambeau said.
Many people who would already qualify for such help receive letters from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services with instructions on how to apply. Others can pick up a form at the LINK or at DHS. Applications for help this Christmas are due by December 14. Distribution will take place on December 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the LINK. It will be a drive-through pick-up event, like the Feeding America food distributions.
It will happen this year: Christmas magic, powered by the Goodfellows. But for this 90-year tradition to be kept alive for next year and beyond, a few more good fellows, or ladies, are needed.
“With many long-time volunteers stepping down,” said volunteer Mary Aho, “we are in need of new volunteers to help fill their shoes so we can continue this valuable service.”