Mel/NAP students give gifts, time to area youth

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Angels in the aisles
Melvindale High School student Bianca Garcia (right), 15, helps 10-year-old Tara Framck look through possible purchases in the toy department of Taylor Wal-Mart Wednesday. As part of the school’s 18th annual Angel Project, high school students in the district partnered with low-income elementary school children, who each received $45 to purchase whatever they’d like in the store.

Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE — The toy department of Taylor Wal-Mart looks like a war zone.

Teens in Santa hats and excited children occupy every square inch of space. Toys are everywhere and shopping carts have been abandoned because they can’t fit through the cramped aisles.

So for 9-year-old Shelbie Boutin and her Melvindale High School chaperone Alondra Hernandez, 15, it’s the perfect time to hit the beauty aisle for the nail polish and black eyeliner on her Christmas list.

“Now this is a girl’s dream,” Shelbie says as they enter the nearly vacant aisle.

Hundreds of teen volunteers and elementary-aged children from Melvindale-Northern Allen Park School District filled the Taylor Wal-Mart Wednesday as part of the district’s annual Angel Project.

Now in its 18th year, the project uses funds from corporate donations by Ford Motor Co. and Wal-Mart, along with private donations and school fundraisers to give each low-income child from the district $45 to spend on anything they’d like in the store.

Mel-NAP Director of Operations Rick Morley said many students buy only for themselves and others for their families, but the items they choose are as unique as they are.

“It’s everything you could imagine a child buying,” Morley said. “It could be pet food if they have a pet at home that doesn’t have food. It could be cereal if that’s what they wanted.”

Children are nominated for the program by school staff and community members, Morley said, but no one gets turned away. This year 150 shoppers, each with a high school student to assist them, participated in the program – six bus loads in all.

Morley said one of the best gifts for the children is time spent with the teens. Some of them save their own money all year to donate for the trip, others befriend their elementary school shopper and request to be partnered with them again the next year.

“It’s just about the one-on-one time,” Morley said. “For a lot of them, spending time with the high school students makes their day.”

Teen volunteer Bianca Garcia, 15, said she had fun shopping with 10-year-old Tara Framack, even though they couldn’t find the Orbeez, orb-shaped toys that expand in water, that Framack wanted.

“It was something cool to do,” Garcia said. “I thought it would be nice to help people who needed things.”

Hernandez said she was excited to help out this year after volunteering for the trip last year.

“I’m happy to come and help with the kids,” she said. “And the kids are really excited to come.
A lot of them don’t even buy for themselves, they buy for family members.”

Shelbie initially had items for her 18-year-old sister on her list, but that changed when she saw her favorite item of the haul – a deluxe makeup box for $15 – which she quickly added to arms piled full of colored hair extensions, clothes and candy.

“My sister can have the eye liner and nail polish,” Shelbie said, hugging the box against herself. “I won’t use that.”