Saving Christmas

By Dana Casadei

Two fundraisers give Lansing area residents an opportunity to spread some holiday cheer

Not all children get to tiptoe down a flight of stairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa has left for them — for many local kids, there are no presents. It’s like waking up in Who-ville after the Grinch has taken all of the Who-pudding and Who-roast beast. But two local fundraisers are trying to un-Grinch-ify this holiday season for some needy children.

The new one this year is “Tori Saves Christmas,” a 24-hour fundraiser at Lansing’s The Avenue Café starting on Dec. 4. The event, organized by Lansing community theater mainstay Jeff Croff, will be unique in more ways than one, including how the idea for the event was born: to honor Croff’s daughter, Tori, who died in June 2011 at the age of 8.

“The event came about to kind of celebrate the silliness and joy for life that Tori had and really bring folks together to remember her in a positive fashion,” he said. According to Croff, Tori’s face would light up at Christmas every year. He said she had a heart that loved to give and help people, making this the perfect way to remember her. Suggested donations for the event are $10, and the money will go to buying Christmas presents for children who are in foster care, based on letters they have written to Santa.

“This is a chance to make it accessible to folks of all income levels, and in this case it’s really a chance to benefit some kids and make their holidays a little brighter,” Croff said with a smile heard through the phone.

The event was inspired by a similar fundraiser Croff attended a few years back at Second City in Chicago, which also helps to benefit needy children.

“We were looking for something to do in Chicago on a Tuesday,” he said, and stumbled on it.

But don’t worry if you can’t make it during the wee hours of the night — the Lansing Public Media will be live-streaming the event online via UStream, making it possible to still enjoy it even if it’s past your bedtime.

“Part of being involved with the local arts and entertainment community is knowing that there are a lot of talented folks in the Lansing area,” Croff said. “(This is) a chance to bring them all together and kind of cut loose.”

For those involved, it was a no-questions-asked kind of deal, especially for actor Robin Harris, who’s known Croff for 10 years. After hearing Croff mention the event last spring, the idea stuck in the back of Harris’ mind. And since Harris doesn’t have a Facebook account or check his email that often, he contacted Croff a week ago to see what he could do to help. Many of the volunteers were either contacted by Croff directly, through Facebook or by word-of-mouth through friends.

“It’s a charity helping children, it’s Christmas and it’s honoring a child who was taken too soon,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t have been able to hold my head up high if I didn’t do it.”

Harris isn’t entirely sure what he will be doing on Tuesday, but the plan is to do a staged reading of the “Frog and Toad” children’s books, written by Arnold Lobel. Other acts will feature local actors, filmmakers, bands and the MSU Giraffe House, an improvisational comedy troupe. There are no time limits for volunteers, and their performances will range as broad as they are. Improv will be the connector throughout the event, featuring a variety of local performers, as will random dance parties happening throughout the night. Get ready to do your best Gangnam Style.

The events themselves are going to be done in an open mic night kind of format, and many slots are still open (you can contact Croff through the event’s Facebook page to set up a time and an act). The 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. time frame will be a comedic free-for-all, but the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. frame will be a little more family friendly, with kids performing and including some storytelling. According to Croff, the schedule is kind of rough, so if you want to try out some new comedy or music at 3 a.m., you may just have to wait your turn.

“Folks have been really receptive,” Croff said. “We have a number of folks that have stepped up and taken part when they’re able.”

There will also be something called Mortal Kombat Karaoke, an event still looking for singers and actors to participate in — and no, you won’t have to worry about what combination of circle-square-star to enter to unlock your fatality move.

“It’s a silly name for something very simple,” Croff said. Folks will be called to the stage, but instead of getting to belt out a favorite like “Don’t Stop Believing,” they will be assigned a character and a song. Character and song combinations range from being a zombie singing “You Light Up My Life” to a card-carrying NRA member rocking out to “YMCA.”

While “Tori Saves Christmas” is a first-time fundraiser, “Red Nose Ruckus” will celebrate its sixth year. According to Demphna Krikorian, director of development at Child and Family Charities, the gala event will have activities for all ages, including fortune tellers, photos with Santa and a casino. There will also be live and silent auctions, with auctioneer Bob Howe, and a tree auction, which will consist of 25 themed trees with gift cards and other items. According to Krikorian, they’re a great chance to get some early Christmas shopping done.

“It’s not just your run-of-the-mill fundraising dinner,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about taking out your wallet every time you turn around.”

The fundraiser started out as as a benefit for the Angel House program, which helps pregnant teens and teen parents that are in the foster care program. The first year it was at the Ingham County Fairgrounds in Mason, but since then the scope has expanded to benefit the entire Child and Family Charities agency, and the location has moved to the more centralized Best Western Plus in south Lansing.

Since being founded in 1911 as the Ingham County Branch of Michigan Children’s Aid Society, Child and Family Charities has been working towards providing services for children and families in the community. It has evolved into an organization that has programs ranging from child abuse prevention services to child welfare services.

“The year I took it over I had about six weeks to plan it,” Krikorian said. Six weeks may not have been much time to plan, but it worked out just fine, with 400 people attending the event, compared to the year before, which had 85.

“When I do an event I like to make sure that it’s reaching its potential, and I saw a lot of potential with this one. It’s a fun event, it’s a great event and it’s also for a very important cause.”

And who knows? It might just make your heart grow three sizes that day.

Tori Saves Christmas: An Epic of Silliness, Joy & Laughter
9 p.m. Dec.- 4 p.m Dec. 5
The Avenue Café,
2021 E. Michigan Ave.
$10 suggested donation
(517) 775-4246 Donations can be made by check to:
“TORI SAVES CHRISTMAS” c/o Astera Credit Union, 111 S. Waverly Road, Lansing, MI 48917.

Red Nose Ruckus
Nov. 30
6-10 p.m.
Best Western Plus,
6820 S. Cedar St.
$125 per person, $200 per couple
(517) 525-0762