The origins of the Goodfellows: 'No kiddie without a Christmas'

Excited chidren look out their window to see a Detroit policeman loaded with Christmas gifts.

Goodfellows’ founder James Brady didn’t act like any tax collector you and I ever met. He had a big heart and he knew that money really could buy happiness–if it was spent in the right way, at the right time and on the right people.

A dapper gentleman, old Jim headed the federal tax collection service in Detroit prior to World War I. He got around town quite a bit in his job and he could see the problems folks were having finding jobs, raising families.

Actually you might recognize the scenario. It wasn’t much different than today.

Brady had this idea of somehow doing something to raise money to help poor children, but it wasn’t until he picked up a copy of The Detroit News one day and was “grabbed,” as they say in the newspaper game, by a Burt Thomas cartoon depicting an affluent business man in an expensive derby and fur-collared coat taking Christmas packages to the poor that he got busy.

Moved by the drawing, Brady came up with an idea for a way to help children all over the city who were stuck in that same leaky old boat.

He’d get a bunch of folks together and raise money! Brilliant, he thought to himself. But what kind of people? And how would they raise those funds?

Brady’s buddy those days was Detroit News’ Managing Editor E.J.Pipp and he sought his input.

Pipp jumped right on it. Why not enlist the aid of the Detroit Newsboys Association? he asked.

The “Old Newsboys,” founded in 1885, was a group of former street hawkers who had gone on to success in business, professions, and politics.

The Burt Thomas cartoon that inspired Brady.

What better channel for their efforts and generosity, Brady reasoned, than to band together once a year prior to Christmas holidays and sell papers on their old corners again and donate their proceeds to make Christmas brighter for poor kids?

The rest, of course, is history. Brady–the tax man with a big heart–raise a few bucks that day and bought a few gifts, which were delivered Christmas morning, 1914.

Since then the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund of Detroit has raised and spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousand of Detroit-area kids, not only on Christmas packages but on shoes, dental work, and campership programs throughout the year.

Today some 250 Old Newsboys–and Newswomen, too–including several direct descendants of old Gentleman Jim, are on the streets hawking papers in the time-honored tradition, so that the organization’s 83-year-old promise of “No Kiddie Without a Christmas,” will once more be fulfilled.

This year’s money target is $1.5 million and with it the Goodfellows will purchase 41,500 colorfully wrapped gift packages containing warm clothing, books, gloves, hats and scarves–and candy, of course–for needy Detroit school children between the ages of five and 13.

In addition, girls between 5 and 9 will receive one of some 12,500 dolls which have been lovingly dressed by volunteers from more that 50 Detroit-area shops, plants and offices.

In addition, the Goodfellows annually distribute thousands of new shoes, and thousands of additional dollars worth of free emergency dental work and individual camperships.”

For what you contributed to buy this paper, thank you.

If you feel moved to make a large tax-deductible contribution, either now or in the future, please make checks payable to “Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund” and mail it to: The Goodfellows, Box 44444, Detroit, 48244.

This cartoon by Thomas May has become the official symbol of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund.

It started with a cartoon

More than half a century ago a Detroit cartoonist sat down at his drawing board intending to “spoil Christmas for every man and woman in Detroit who had remembered only themselves.”

The artist was Thomas May. Whether his 1906 drawing of a little girl sobbing in a grimly furnished garret accomplished its purpose is not recorded.

But since 1923, the cartoon had been the official emblem of the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund. The Old Newsboys take to the streets again this season to carry on their message: “No Child Without a Christmas.”

May’s cartoon, simply titled Forgotten, was drawn for the old Detroit Journal. It’s now in Detroit’s Historical Museum, along with another similar message drawn eight years later.

The second cartoon, drawn by Burt Thomas in 1914 for The Detroit News, actually led to the organization of the Old Newsboys.

Thomas’ cartoon portrays an affluent business man in an expensive derby and fur-collared coat taking Christmas packages to the poor. He is walking hand-in-hand with the spirit of an ill-clothed newsboy.

Thomas labeled the youth “The Boy He Used To Be.”

The cartoon appeared in the Dec. 10, 1914, edition of The Detroit News, where it was seen by James J. Brady, then director of Internal Revenue in Detroit.

Brady found the cartoon electrifying.

That same afternoon, he appeared in the office of News Managing Editor E.J. Pipp with the idea of organizing the Old Newsboys.

Mounted police lead the Goodfellows parade down Lafayette in 1961.

Brady, who had sold newspapers in his youth at Fort and Griswold recalled another organization, the Detroit Newsboys’ Association, founded in 1885 by Detroit business leaders for the benefit of news carriers. It was Brady’s belief that these same newsboys, many of whom had become successful business and professional men, could assist Detroit’s needy children.

Less that two weeks after the cartoon was published, more than 70 men met in front of The News building, then at Shelby and Larned, to begin the Old Newsboys’ first campaign.

It netted $2,274–a large amount in those days–for “the boys that used to be.”

Since those early days, the sales totals and the number of children who benefit from them have increased tremendously.

Here’s a list of what goes into the gift packages for the boys and girls
160,000 books
126,000 Boys briefs’
123,000 Girls’ briefs
41,500 Packages of candy
41,500 Pairs of gloves
41,500 Dental kits
41,500 Pairs of jeans
21,000 Boys’ heavy sweatshirts
20,500 Girls’ heavy sweatshirts
11,800 Toys
15,640 Dolls
249,000 Pairs of socks

Special letter by Waldmeir

Most of the 230 men and women members of the Detroit Goodfellows either were newspaper carriers early in life or have worked in advertising or print or electronic journalism. Many of the present membership, particularly the older Goodfellows, also were recipients of Goodfellows’s Christmas packages when they were growing up.

My brother, sister, and I were raised by a single mom and we received the packages more than one holiday season. Detroit’s former Mayor Coleman Young, Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara and a host of other prominent citizens and political types were on the Goodfellows’ list at one time or another.

As UAW Vice President Ernie Lofton likes to say with a smile: “In my neighborhood, the only times you were happy to see a cop at the door was on Christmas Eve!”

The 1932 Newsboys pose outside The Detroit News building before setting out on their annual newspaper sale.

      (This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News.)By Pete Waldmeir / The Detroit News