Our Brother’s Keeper volunteers spend night outdoors to raise funds, awareness

SLEEPING OUTSIDE: Shelter volunteer Sue Roshak tries to sleep under the bright lights on Michigan Avenue. Though the fundraiser was fun for participants, it also proved to be an eye-opening experience, they said. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

SLEEPING OUTSIDE: Shelter volunteer Sue Roshak tries to sleep under the bright lights on Michigan Avenue. Though the fundraiser was fun for participants, it also proved to be an eye-opening experience, they said. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

BIG RAPIDS – At the end of the day, most of us have a warm and comfortable bed to go home to.

For the 86,189 people currently homeless, as designated by the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness, they know this is not always the case.

To experience what the homeless go through each night and raise awareness, 10 volunteers with Our Brother’s Keeper slept outside from 7 p.m. on Friday to 7 a.m. on Saturday.

“We’re doing this as a picture’s-worth-a-thousand-words-type thing,” said Sue Roshak, OBK vice president. “If people see us out here, maybe they’ll better connect that there are people sleeping outside every night. For us, we’re making a bit of a party out of it, but the homeless don’t make a party out of it. They find some place where they can lay, be safe and not get booted away by the cops. It’s just to put a real, poignant picture on homelessness in Big Rapids.”

Volunteers spent the night sleeping in cots, sleeping bags and on benches at Pocket Park. The shelter opens on Saturday, Nov. 1 and in anticipation of that opening date, volunteers have been raising money and trying to attract more volunteers. The fundraiser was successful, raising $3,925 with an additional $3,000 in matched funds from a local business.

“People have been good,” Roshak said on Friday. “We’ve had some people from the Chili Cook-Off walk by. Some of them try to ignore us, but we don’t let them.”

Our Brother’s Keeper provides temporary housing for local homeless individuals and families and has a capacity for 34 people. On average, 25 people stay each night, Roshak said. The shelter is open 24 hours from November to April.

To participate in the fundraiser, volunteers collected pledges during the weeks leading up to it. They received a welcome surprise on Friday when a representative from Scott’s Body Shop pledged to match the already-raised amount of $3,000, making for a total of more than $6,000 raised for the shelter that night. The donation was “a blessing” according to Roshak.

“We have no words to express our gratitude for all the support we received doing our first fundraiser,” added the shelter’s office manager Wanda Eldred.

The money raised will go toward the shelter’s operational costs, among other needs. The shelter also will participate in Match Day this year to continue to raise much-needed funds.

While volunteers enjoyed themselves at the fundraiser, it also was a reminder of how some locals live on a day-to-day basis.

“We had fun,” Eldred said. “But, we also took some time to reflect on how fortunate we are that we all have beds to go home to. It was difficult sleeping with the lights, people walking by and the uncertainty of what could happen.”

“I can see how careful the homeless need to be and how they can have their things stolen from them,” added Pamela Fleming, OBK president. “We were fortunate to have good weather. Even though it was chilly for us, we know some people have had to survive outside through much worse.”

Participants ranged from Big Rapids High School and Crossroads Charter High School students to those who have been personally touched by the shelter.

“My son stayed at Our Brother’s Keeper for two or three months last year,” said Tammy Eldridge, who has just started volunteering at the shelter. “We are just trying to help others. I don’t want to see people go through what my son went through. He’s got a job now and he’s doing much better.”

One of the volunteers had personal experience with the shelter, having been its very first guest.

“To me, this is paying it forward,” said Doug Bolling, of Big Rapids. “The shelter was kind enough to open its doors for me when I needed it. In return, I can donate my time to help others. So many people don’t realize homelessness is a real problem.”

For more information about the shelter or to volunteer, visit obkshelter.org/about.html.

 

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