The children from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSEM) were chosen to participate with the Wings in their Hometown Holiday Assist program because of their leadership and involvement in the club.
"One of the criteria is community service so we're big on community service and teaching our members to give to the club and their community, so they were told that they were coming to shop for kids who will be spending the holidays in the hospital," said Chris Kyles, BGCSEM's area club director. "So it would be important for them to take it seriously because if they were in the hospital, they would want to get good gifts and things they like for Christmas."
Hometown Holiday Assist started a few seasons ago as a partnership between the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and Meijer as a way to support the community during the holiday season.
"You see the guys really light up when they hit the aisles with the kids because for many of our players, they're young, too, so they remember the games that are on sale here at Meijer, they know exactly in some instances what the kids are picking out and they would have picked the exact same toy themselves," said Kevin Brown, Wings director of community relations and Detroit Red Wings Foundation.
First-timer Anthony Mantha and his girlfriend, Caitlyn Duffy, were happy to help the kids shop.
"It feels good," said Mantha, who has been out with a lower-body injury. "Obviously I haven't been around my teammates a lot lately so just being here, seeing a lot of smiles on the kids and giving back is what we're here for. It's time to spread joy and the holidays are perfect for it."
Mantha's shy shopper, who hid behind a big stuffed bear while being interviewed, talked about what she had found for the kids in the hospital.
"I found puzzles, coloring books and baby dolls," she said.
Wings alternate captain Luke Glendening has participated in the Hometown Holiday Assist every season. This year, he was joined by Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Alex Biega, Eric Comrie, Danny DeKeyser, Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard and Patrik Nemeth.
"It just warms your heart," Glendening said. "I don't know that there's a better way to put it. But it's just a special time of year and it's special to see these kids, how caring they are for others but then to know that they're going to have a good Christmas as well."
What Glendening meant when he said the BGCSEM kids would also have a good Christmas was the surprise part of the event.
After the kids finished all their shopping for the kids at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, Glendening revealed that the children from the Boys and Girls Clubs would then get to shop for themselves.
"That was a huge surprise," Kyles said. "They are extremely excited. Then you still have some kids now who when they're shopping for themselves, they're also shopping for their siblings and they're spreading the wealth around. It shows a lot that even in the holidays, they're thinking about giving back to others."
Steven Taylor, 10, had a great time shopping with Biega and Biega's wife, Diana.
"It was exciting," Taylor said. "Better than fun, it was amazing!"
Manal Alyassen, 11, was thrilled to be able to get a few things for herself and for her mom after picking out some race cars for the kids in the hospital.
"I bought some AirPods, I bought some arts and crafts stuff, some teddy bears," Alyassen said. "I bought my mama a necklace."
Mantha was very touched by the fact that when his friend from the Boys and Girls Clubs was shopping for herself and her family, she also wanted to buy her new friend from the Wings a watch because Mantha had mentioned he wanted one.
Instead, Mantha said she should keep it for one of her family members.
"This has been great because this is kind of their first interactions with players from the Red Wings so this is awesome," Kyles said. "Now they're putting faces with names so this is great. It'll be a continued built relationship from here on out because this is something they'll never forget."
The week before Christmas, the Wings will make their annual visit to the Children's Hospital of Michigan to visit the kids there and deliver all the presents.
"It's awesome," Glendening said. "To see both sides is pretty cool. You see these kids, they're searching for gifts that they think that other kids would like. To see the kids at the hospital receive those gifts is awesome."
Mantha said the annual hospital visit is one of the highlights of the holiday season.
"The smiles that they have on their faces at that point is just amazing," Mantha said. "Their parents are thrilled to see us. Even some of the kids, they watch us play and they know who we are so as soon as they see us walking into the room, I think they forget everything and they're just enjoying the moment that we're there. It's always fun."
The Wings always say how grateful they are to be able to bring some holiday cheer to kids who have to be in the hospital during the holidays.
"To see the kids' eyes light up in their hospital beds or throughout the building, it's something that really, it sticks with you because you realize that those kids are just like anybody else's children, just unfortunately they have to be in the hospital over the holiday," Brown said. "So to know that we have a roster of players and their significant others here at the Red Wings who care enough to support those kids during the holidays, it truly is something that we cherish at the organization."
The Wings and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan also both cherish the bond they have created through these shared events.
"This is a really great program," Kyles said. "It's teaching youth about giving back to others, even in the holiday season. That's great, that's awesome. Then they're also empowering our youth by giving them a chance to shop for themselves and building self-esteem and motivation, which is awesome.
"It's great that the Red Wings are involved with Boys and Girls Clubs in the inner city and involved with kids. Now our youth can actually touch Red Wings players and staff and now that relationship is building and is going to be great in the future. I think the Red Wings Foundation and Boys and Girls Club have a great future (together) helping youth."