Consider it the ultimate holiday drive-through.
That was the case when the Magic Johnson Foundation and UnitedHealthcare teamed up to spread a little cheer to Michigan families in need last month. When recipients pulled up to Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, volunteers loaded their vehicles with all the trappings of a great holiday meal plus toys, books and essential living items.
It was part of the fourth annual Holiday Hope program, which Magic Johnson started in Detroit in 2014 and has since expanded to Lansing and Flint. This year, nearly 5,000 families were served during the one-day event held in advance of Thanksgiving.
“Since 2014, Holiday Hope has served nearly 30,000 Michigan residents with nearly $2 million worth of food, turkeys, toys, coats and personal care items,” says Johnson, a Michigan native and founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation. “UnitedHealthcare and other community partners have joined us in bringing hope and cheer to Michigan communities. I couldn’t enjoy the holidays without providing some help to families in the state where I grew up.”
In addition to the care packages, families attending the event at Everett High School in Lansing also enjoyed breakfast and photos with Santa.
“The Magic Johnson Foundation is well-known for its work in these cities and engages locally to help improve our communities’ health, wellness and quality of life,” says Dennis Mouras, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan. “We are grateful for the opportunity to support Magic Johnson Foundation and Holiday Hope.”
UnitedHealthcare, the event’s presenting sponsor, is the largest multi-year corporate partner for Holiday Hope and has donated more than $550,000 over the past three years to support the program.
“The holidays are often very celebratory for most people. But if you’re in need, the holidays can be especially stressful, because you’re focusing on just meeting the basic needs for you or your family,” says Rosie Reebel, director of marketing and community outreach for UnitedHealthcare. “We thought, ‘What a great way to bring a little extra cheer and bring a little something extra home for the holidays.’”
About 900 volunteers pitched in to make the program a success, preparing care packages in advance and distributing items to local families. About 50 people from UnitedHealthcare Community Plan volunteer each year, Reebel says, and it’s a cherished part of the holiday season for everyone involved.
“Some of them even use it as a time to bring out their families to do something that is really focused on other people,” says Reebel, who has fond memories of taking part in similar opportunities with her own family. “I think it’s a great way for people to build memories and really model that we are all a part of the community and we all have something to contribute.”
The program inspires a strong sense of community spirit. It’s not one organization serving someone in need, she says; “it’s one family serving another family.”
She explains, “It feels like my family is serving your family. I think it’s something that people really enjoy, and it’s a really special way to kick off the holiday season.”
And the people served couldn’t be more grateful.
“We know this is something people appreciate,” Reebel says.
Giving back to the community through events like Holiday Hope is a key priority for the health plan, which also participates in outreach like school supply drives and food programs for children.
“Community giving and being involved to help fill those gaps and those needs is just a part of how we like to operate in the community. It takes so much more than making sure their health needs are met,” Reebel says. “It’s about everyday living. It recognizes that everyone doesn’t have access to the same basic necessities. Because it’s the holidays, we wanted to go a little further to help families like the ones we serve.”