DETROIT – One by one the limos pulled up to the Salvation Army in Dearborn Heights as military families spilled out, smiles on their faces as they prepared to celebrate a year of homecomings – and well wishes for soldiers still abroad.
It was a night of carolers singing "Joy to the World," children getting snowflakes painted on their faces, and families noshing on pizza and mostaccioli.
"It just is nice to feel like somebody cared," said Maurita Mussawwir of Detroit, whose husband Hassan Mussawwir, a member of the Alpha Company's 125th infantry division returned home Sunday from a tour in Kuwait.
They brought their 10-year-old son Ameer to the holiday party, which was expected to draw 70 families.
Pat Mifsud, president of Entertainment Express, a limousine and luxury coach operator in Dearborn Heights, almost didn't have the party this year because his business has been battered by the economic meltdown.
But Mifsud said he couldn't forgo the tradition he started two years ago for needy families across metro Detroit.
He chose military families this year to thank them for their sacrifices and contacted military organizations to get the word out.
In addition to the limo ride and presents for the children, each family was to get a ham and Pistons tickets.
Andrew Krawczyk, 43, of Trenton and a truck commander in Alpha Company's 125th infantry division, attended the party with his wife and four children and was thankful.
"It's a nice deal, it was nice for them to put it on," he said.
Torrey Gray planned to be at the party. He worries about his mother as she does her second tour of duty guarding prisoners in Iraq for the U.S. Army. And the 13-year-old from Brownstown Township isn't certain how to navigate those awkward middle school years without her.
"I just hope it makes me feel better," Torrey said before the party.
Mifsud said he raised the $30,000 to put on the party with pleas for help from friends and acquaintances.
"Times are tough but it's still about giving back," he said.
Mifsud said Christmas was an embarrassing time for him as a child. He grew up poor in Detroit with a mentally ill mother. When friends at school asked him about his presents, he made something up rather than admit he got nothing.
He said he built a successful company from one employee and one vehicle to 50 limousines and 100 employees, and typically raises about $5,000 a year at Christmastime for the Salvation Army.
This year, he couldn't raise cash for the Salvation Army because he is having trouble paying his own bills. He worries about the future of a luxury business in a dire economy.
Antonio Madden is a specialist first class with the Michigan Army National Guard who returned home to Belleville on Sunday after a year away, including nine months in Iraq. He said he appreciates Mifsud "because it shows there are people who care what we do and support the military."
Madden, who has a job waiting as a ramp agent at Detroit Metro Airport, said that although he is happy to be home for the holidays with his fiancée and family, he would prefer to be in Iraq "because of how the economy is here in Michigan. I'm a soldier and I have no choice but to do my part. When duty calls, I have no choice."
Rene Hinojosa, a major with the Michigan Army National Guard, also returned Sunday, to his wife and 11-year-old daughter in Dearborn. Between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he missed three of her birthdays.
He said he is glad to be home and appreciates Mifsud.
"That's very selfless of him," Hinojosa said before the party.
Rachel Hetu of Livonia also is grateful to Mifsud. Her husband served in Iraq for 18 months with the Michigan Army National Guard.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful," she said before the event. "It gives me chills. It's wonderful there are still people in the world who care, and who don't put money first."
Source: Detroit Free Press