Tommy, Sarah and Matthew Abazi will be celebrating their first Christmas without their dad this year. However, thanks to Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids, this holiday season will be more than memorable for this Birmingham family.
On Sunday, Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids surprised Tommy, 5; Sarah, 3; Matthew, 2; and their mom, Lindsay Abazi, as part of the nonprofit group's Extreme Christmas Makeover. The family lost father, husband and former Derby Middle School math teacher Redi Abazi in June after his yearlong battle with stomach cancer.
The Bloomfield Hills-based Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids provides assistance to families who have recently lost a parent. Every holiday season, on top of regular gifts and financial assistance, the nonprofit organization provides three families throughout Metro Detroit with an Extreme Christmas Makeover, involving boxes full of presents, money to pay winter bills, free truckloads of Art Van furniture and a special visit from Santa and his caroling elves.
On Sunday afternoon, two Art Van trucks, dozens of volunteers, family and friends, as well as Santa himself — played by Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids President Norman Yatooma — pulled up in front of the Abazi home with plenty of surprises for everyone.
Abazi family finally going to Disney World
Yatooma said families are chosen for the Extreme Christmas Makeover due to economic struggles or if families have experienced a fresh loss, this being the first Christmas without one or both parents.
It's been a tough six months for the Abazi family, who have been recovering from the loss of Redi since he died from Stage 4 stomach cancer in June. Redi was diagnosed in March 2010.
As part of the Christmas Makeover, all three Abazi children received a box full of presents, including sleds, coats and stuffed animals. Art Van delivered a bedroom set for Sarah, who Lindsay said was still sleeping in her brothers' room. The family also received appliances, a box full of food and electronics as part of the makeover, including an electric toy Cadillac Escalade.
"Only in Birmingham," Yatooma said, laughing, as he pushed Matthew, sitting inside his new car, across the yard.
As a special part of the surprise, the Abazi family was also presented with funds to pay for a trip to Disney World. According to Yatooma, the family had been saving for a trip to Disney World before Redi was diagnosed with cancer, but had to use those savings to pay for his treatment.
Later, the family's application was received by an organization that sends families with terminally ill members to Disney World. Three days shy of their departure, Redi was rushed to the hospital and subsequently placed in hospice care.
Yatooma said the foundation will pay for the family's rental car, as well as various other expenses, during the upcoming Disney World trip.
Krista Pallas, a neighbor and former baby sitter for the Abazis, was at the big surprise Sunday afternoon. Pallas, a senior at Seaholm High School, said Redi Abazi was her middle school math teacher.
"It was really hard to comprehend when I heard Mr. Abazi died, but his family is so sweet. This is really great," she said.
Foundation giving gifts, food to 500 Metro Detroit families
According to Yatooma, Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids has helped about 500 families this year.
"It's been a good year, all in all," said Yatooma, who started the foundation in 2003 in honor of his own father, whom he lost 19 years ago. "It's tougher to raise money generally ... but a lot of families have been able to connect with (this charity) on a personal level."
Every family who receives aid from the foundation receives holiday gifts from their very own wish list, in addition to a holiday meal from Kroger and new shoes from Payless. All wish list items are either donated or purchased through donations.
"Families are able to see how fortunate they are," Yatooma said. "We want to make sure the holidays are as bearable as possible."
Families in Southfield and Lake Orion also received Extreme Christmas Makeovers on Sunday, courtesy of Yatooma's Foundation for the Kids. In total, the foundation spent $15,000 on the 2011 makeovers, or $5,000 per family.