Stemming from the idea of helping families and children in need during the holidays, long-time Rochester Hills resident Patti Jacques and two others started Gifts For All God's Children to bring items to children at Christmas time. Today, the non-profit organization has helped more than 65,000 children and operates outreach programs at dozens of churches throughout metro Detroit, Pontiac and Flint.
"It just expanded when people heard what we were doing, then more people and churches started sponsoring children," Jacques said. "It went from 188 children to 2,950 last Christmas. We went from three churches to more than 50, so we are real connected."
Gifts For All Gods Children, which recently expanded to a workshop space in Shelby Township, works by asking churches, businesses, individuals and other charitable organizations to sponsor individual children during the holiday. In doing so, Jacques said, they collect a list of needs and wants from the families and provide personalized gifts. Donors may also give items to the charity, which then uses them to fill out lists. In doing so, Gifts For All God's Children operates differently than a gift drive or food bank.
Outside of the Christmas gift lists, the organization has expanded to include other programs, such as individual tutoring and mentoring, summer bible camps, overnight camp scholarships, field trips, sports camps and transportation services.
Jacques said the progression of services and expansion wasn't something that was necessarily planned out, but that happened by word of mouth and the generosity of others.
"We never had a business plan, we didn't have that kind of growth. We didn't have a plan to go to a different church," she said. "As the years went by, we got more and more children on the list. Soon we had up to 1,500, and we weren't even computerized. We hand wrote ID tags. That's what makes us so personal."
When the organization started working with Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, its expansion couldn't be stopped. Still, the success comes from word of mouth and personal networking.
"Not a day goes by that I don't run into someone I know who wants to help," she said. "The other day, a friend from the past happened by our workshop, and didn't know what it was. She saw me, and then donated 500 backpacks to us for our back to school drive. She just happened to be there in front of that building, and now she's going to order backpacks for us."
Earlier this year, the Rochester Hills City Council recognized Jacques for her contributions to the community. In doing so, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett recalled how Jacques helped him in the past, and how he repaid her.
Barnett said he was just getting interested in politics and Jacques, impressed with him, threw a fundraiser for him and another city council candidate. Later, Barnett ran for a precinct delegate, unknowingly against Jacques, and beat her.
"He likes to tell that story," Jacques said, noting that she never held a grudge. "What he has done has been wonderful... but I was involved as a precinct delegate for many years. It was a good thing to get involved in, and know where people stand. I enjoyed being part of that."
Photo: Laurie Tennent