Back in 2007 Danielle Kaltz was driving down the Lodge on her way to work downtown. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw movement under one of the bridges. She was right. There were homeless people living there.
Moved by their plight she filled up the back of her Jeep with items that would help out, went back to the bridge and delivered them. One man “looked at me and I looked him,” she said, remembering the thank you in his eyes and appreciation in his expression.
For Kaltz this wasn’t a one-time act. That year she launched an all-volunteer organization to deliver backpacks to the homeless during the holidays. A year later she began a partnership with Burners Without Borders (BWB) and Burners Without Borders Detroit was born.
BWB is a grassroots, volunteer-driven, community leadership organization that works with local communities around the world to solve problems and bring about change.
For nine winters Burners Without Borders Detroit has been delivering needed suppliers in sturdy backpacks with a rain poncho attached to the homeless. Along the way the group has picked up more and more individual and business support.
Here are a couple of examples.
Sisters Teal and Kathleen (Purple) Bruce make hats and scarves for BWB Detroit while they are enjoying craft beer at locations in Michigan.
Dave and Debee Lotito donate $5 McDonalds gift certificates. Dave collects all the cans from his work, washes them out and cashes them in. He uses that money to buy the certificates.
“We’ve been giving them out with the backpacks because it makes somebody a paying customer so they can get out of the elements and I can’t be kicked out (of the store),” Kaltz says.
Then there was a generous check from a private family foundation.
This year Shinola donated 360 backpacks and 20 volunteers from that company showed up to help fill them. For one of them it had special meaning.
“I used to be on the streets,” that person told Kaltz.
Getting the backpacks ready for delivery requires lots time, effort, logistics understanding and assembly line prowess. This year 100 people filled just under 400 backpacks on about an hour and a half. Many of them also went out on the streets and delivered the gifts to the homeless,
There’s pre-work to be done before that assembly process begins. All packaging is removed from the items before they go into the backpacks to make sure there is no litter. Volunteers work in shifts doing that task and filling the backpacks.
The backpacks are fill with juice, water, canned meats and vegetables, peanut butter, granola, hand warmers, scarves, two pairs of socks, a military-type can opener and hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. All the items are donated.
Perhaps the most special item though is a handwritten note from one of the volunteers telling the person receiving the backpack “you are not alone, someone cares,” Kaltz says.
That’s a lot of stuff and donations come if from all over starting in September. That means the items must be stored, which can be a serious problem for an all-volunteer organization. But as Kaltz says, Burners Without Borders Detroit has “many guardian angels.”
Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics donated storage space in its building … the Albert Kahn-designed original Savings Bank #3 at the corner of Woodward and Milwaukee.
“It is me to we,” Kaltz says. “So many people have gotten involved. It warms may heart and humbles me … All of these examples are examples of things that just make us blessed. We cannot do what we do without the help of others.”
Kaltz would like to find a way to collaborate with all those guardian angels and other volunteer organizations helping the homeless so they can avoid overlap and better coordinate their efforts. A good start might be the new dCOM]munity interactive map and directory from Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) that connects neighborhood organizations.
In the meantime, Kaltz has some words of wisdom for all of us. “Say ‘hi’ to those you pass on the street. It is a two-letter word that makes a big difference in our world today.”
If you are interested in helping Burners Without Borders Detroit click here and select Detroit.