Impressive law firm generosity expands with the holiday season


 Photo 1: At Miller Johnson, left to right, new associate Annalise Buth and legal secretaries Cindy Sherwood and Vicki Hibma volunteered to be on the giving planning committee.


Photo 2: Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge attorneys and staff who delivered Thanksgiving donation baskets to families in the Greater Grand Rapids area.


Photo 3: Julie Long, left, and Nikki Cushman of Varnum in a classroom at Buchanan Elementary, which is the beneficiary of firmwide donations and a goodly number of mittens.


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

The generosity so evident in attorneys and law firms throughout the year makes a quantum leap at the holidays.

While some activities are not officially sanctioned, most law firms at least allow their employees time to give and encourage others to give.

And the result is an outpouring of holiday spirit.

At Miller Johnson, for example, a small committee spearheads The “Santa’s Stockings” drive. DA Blodgett and St. John’s Home’s foster care programs provide a list of children’s names to the committee, this year composed of legal secretaries Vicki Hibma, Lauri Johns, Laura Kennedy, Mary Miller, and Cindy Sherwood, and associate attorney Annalise Buth.

The committee sends out a flyer firmwide and mounts a series of red stockings on a festively decorated board, shown at right, each with the name and wish list of one of the children so attorneys and staff may help fulfill their dreams. Sometimes a group of employees goes in together, and due to a connection with a Miller Johnson employee, the Grand Valley State Uni-

versity Dance Team participates too.

Sherwood and Hibma are old hands at organizing the donations, and Hibma comments, “We have it all down.” 

The activity is an extension of the giving partnership Miller Johnson has year-round with D.A. Blodgett.

In addition to holding a client party which features a showing of a Civic Theatre performance (The Sound of Music in 2013), Miller Johnson holds a family party for employees. The families are asked to bring a gift from the DeVos Children’s Hospital Wish List. 

This year there were “more than 60 gifts...  They ranged from Legos and board games to rainbow looms (the hot DIY toy of the season) and gift cards,” according to Marketing and Commu-

nications Coordinator Kim Houtman.

Miller Johnson also participated in “Giving Tuesday,” the new initiative to follow up Black Friday by encouraging people to make charitable contributions. Miller Johnson gave its customary holiday contributions, in honor of its clients, to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation - Challenge Scholars Program; Covenant Healthcare Foundation – Covenant Kids; and MidMichigan Health – Love Light Trees, which will help buy needed equipment for cancer detection.

At Thanksgiving time, Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge collected all the items necessary to complete a Thanksgiving basket donated by SHRR?employees, and delivered them to people associated with Other Way Ministries, a downtown organization that provides encouragement, guidance and resources to families facing


According to Smith Haughey CFO Kate Harms, the project came about under the auspices of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee’s Community Outreach Committee, which she chairs. Because she had worked with the pantry oversight organization Access in the past, she asked for a recommendation, and the committee members were delighted to find out that most of the Other Way Ministries client families were within two miles of Smith Haughey’s office right downtown.

The original goal for the first year from the Grand Rapids office was to fill six baskets, but with everyone’s generosity they wound up filling 16 (plus two each in similar drives at the Traverse City and Ann Arbor offices).

Harms says that the deliveries were very rewarding. One stands out in particular. “We saw that two of the deliveries had the same address and we thought we’d made a mistake, but we decided to go there and try to explain,” she says “When we got there, it was  a duplex, and there were four families living on just one side of it; our two deliveries were to two of them.

“If there was any doubt about whether or not this was worth our doing, that made all the difference. We would absolutely do this again.”

Smith Haughey also participates in JetCo Solutions’ Veterans Day Drive, as well as the Salvation Army’s Giving Tree program, which it has done for about the last five year.

A unique project of Smith Haughey is to serve as a drop-off point for Sleepy Hollow’s pet “presents” drive. Items to meet the needs of pet rescue organizations, such as blankets and food  will be collected and transported to Sleepy Hollow for distribution, according to Harms.

Each year the Varnum?law firm gives a holiday gift to various organizations; the 2013 focus is on non-profits that provide programs for children. Kids Food Basket of Muskegon (a recent expansion of the organization that provides sack suppers for low-income children), D.A. Blodgett - St. Johns, Warm Kids Project, Riddle Elementary School (specializing in early childhood development and special needs), and Miracle League of Plymouth, which helps children with disabilities participate in sports.

A larger project, which again reflects a year-round partnership, involves Buchanan Elementary. Varnum Software Trainer Julie Long and Paralegal Nikki Cushman co-chaired a committee to run a giving-tree type project for families recommended by Buchanan staff.

“For each child, we collect at least one outfit, pajamas, socks, underwear and a toy or gift-type item, and then each family gets a parent bag, with toiletries and cleaning supplies,” Long explains. “It’s really up to the discretion of the person who takes the name.”

“This year we had a bunch of handmade mittens donated,” Cushman adds. “We go to the school and match the parents picking up with their bagged items – we bag them so it’s not real obvious what they’re picking up if they want to keep it secret from their kids.”

Varnum also throws a party for Buchanan featuring honored guest Santa Claus. “They chit chat with us, and they have the best questions in the world about Christmas,” Long says.

Watch for additional law firm’s holiday activities in next week’s Legal News.