by Janice Limbaugh
These are the kind of stories I love to share – humble, inspiring, and motivational. It’s a call, or rather a scream, to action to help others.
The “others” in this story are the homeless of downtown Grand Rapids.
It’s hard for anyone to ignore the harsh conditions we’ve experienced this winter. The brutal weather over the last couple months has had little positive impact on most people’s lives in West Michigan. I’m sticking with the positive notion that all this bluster will eventually raise the lake levels. But between all the accidents and slide offs, the round-the-clock snow removal routine, and the cabin fever epidemic, there’s been little good to say about the season. Until now.
Kerri Banyas of Hudsonville and Rhiannon Bosse of Rockford are two Facebook friends who paid close attention to the weather like everyone else. But with every mind-numbing forecast they thought of something else – the survival of the homeless.
“Every time a storm would hit, I’d wonder and worry, how are they ever going to survive?” says Banyas, admitting it was God’s whispers to her heart that finally made her take action. “I got tired of wondering so I talked about it with my Facebook friends and the obvious came up – ‘Let’s go hand out blankets!”
That was three weeks ago. Coincidentally (or not as God does work in mysterious ways), one of the women, Amber Brooks, has a photography studio called 87 Orange Photography on Division near Degage Ministries – a perfect location for the troops to rally. For now, Thursday evenings seem to be a good meeting time for the Warriors to gather and distribute protection from the cold. So far, these volunteers are all women, most of them moms, who come from all parts of greater Grand Rapids, plus Holland and Cascade, to distribute cups of hot coffee while offering blankets, hats, gloves and socks to the homeless along Division.
“At first, we gave away things we weren’t using at home,” explains Banyas. “I, myself, only had two blankets to donate. We knew we had to get more items to give out every week in order to keep this effort going.”
That’s when Bosse, the social media expert of the bunch, dedicated a Facebook page to the effort of “Warmth Warriors.”
Now Banyas says it is taking off.
“The word is getting out and people from all over Grand Rapids have been contacting us, asking how they can contribute. We’ve been able to collect coats, blankets, socks, hats and gloves to pass out to people in the area.
“Now all this effort is based on other people giving. It’s amazing how much other people want to help!”
She explains that because Warmth Warriors is based on social media, donations are being picked up by the volunteers. Every Thursday afternoon, the group meets to sort out the donated items, make coffee to hand out, and divides clothing into categories to distribute.
“They are so grateful for anything we give them,” Banyas says. “Often we meet a person wearing rags, certainly not appropriate for this weather, and offer them something warmer and they say, ‘Oh no thanks, I know someone who needs that more than I do – but I’ll take a coffee.’ My heart just goes out to these people – It is so humbling.”
Warmth Warriors has been established for just three weeks and is growing in popularity every day. Banyas admits she doesn’t know where this will all lead, but for now, they are thrilled to be contacted to pick up donations. She recently added a link on their Facebook page to gofundme.com a fundraising web source for charitable organizations. Banyas says it helps them securely track donations from people wanting to help monetarily. “I’m fine if no one donates money though,” adds Banyas. “We’d rather have blankets, hats and gloves – and socks! They love warm socks! So many are wearing shoes that are worn out and filled with holes – a pair of warm socks really helps.”
Banyas points out that Warmth Warriors is not out to undermine the downtown ministries that are already there, nor do they want to enable homelessness. “There a a lot of great ministries here but they can’t do it all and they know that. We’ve actually been encouraged by Downtown Ministries for what we’re doing – basically walking down the street handing out coffee and blankets. We hope we can inspire others to do the same.”
For now, Warmth Warriors are focusing on assisting the homeless downtown, but that doesn’t mean that’s where they’ll stay. “As a matter of fact, we are trying to locate other areas where homeless people gather to reach out to them. This effort can really go any where there is a need,” Banyas says.
To find out more and how you can become involved in this effort, visit the Warmth Warriors Facebook page.