At the address of 78 Maryland Street, Battle Creek, Michigan does not just sit an ordinary home. Small and humble, this gray structure is as large in its reach as those who inhabit its walls. Upon parking out front you will see no signs informing you of the wonders inside. For it looks quite normal. Yet on this little piece of property, you will find the home of a cheerful, radiant woman of exceptional and extraordinary nature welcoming everyone with a warm heart, smile, and a hug. Vickie Brennan, the adoptive mother, and grandmother to all who cross her path saw a desperate need in a city plagued with blight and poverty and decided to open her home as a place of hope and comfort. Starting a Facebook page in 2015 called “The Help and Hope Closet” Vickie appealed to the masses stating she would take their donations of any unwanted and gently used items.
It did not take long before a few bags of donations showed up on her doorstep. At this point, thrilled at the prospect that she was actually doing something to help her community, she enlisted a few family and friends to help dump and sort the clothing right on her kitchen table. After disposing of the battered and stained unuseable items and washing the rest, Vickie then opened for business letting the community know they could come to her home and go through the items donated taking anything they had a need for.
Fast forward to present day 2018 and even Vickie will tell you she had no clue how quickly her little home-based organization would grow. Battle Creek, Michigan, known as “The Cereal City” is the third largest city in Michigan measured by square miles.
With the median income reaching only $38,216 it is not hard to understand why 20.8% of its population lives in poverty (United States Census Bureau, 2010-2017).
Surprisingly, in a city of this size, help for the less fortunate is very hard to come by. When you do find it, usually it is not of an adequate nature to provide a lasting effect. When I asked Vickie to describe to me what prompted her to start The Help and Hope Closet, she had this to say, “I got tired of seeing people turned away. Places were picking and choosing who they would help. That is not right, it’s just not right.”
As I sat and listened I could not help but feel as emotionally connected as she was to this topic. Having moved here to Battle Creek, Michigan only a few months ago myself and seeing the difference between the help offered in the area I came from, compared to what is offered here, I was astounded at the lack of viable options to seek out such help. If one is lucky enough to find help out here, those sources have very limited resources to give out. You are only allowed to go once per month and they are only open a handful of hours in the middle of one day per week. They apologize and give you a sheet of paper with the names of other places you could call such as 211 for a referral to other food banks. You will then have to obtain access to some sort of phone service so you can call 211 give them information and gain that referral. Next, you have to accomplish the task of securing transportation to an from the next location on the appointed date and time given to you. This entire process seems like it was developed in the dark ages in a time when it was not necessary or commonplace to help your local community grow, improve, and prosper.
While our community is desperate to see reform of a broken system, we find a glimmer of light in Vickie Brennan and The Help and Hope Closet. In her three years in operation, Vickie has watched the donations pour in taking over each room, basement, and garage of her tiny little non-assuming home. She has expanded to take donations of food, toiletries, baby items, diapers, formula, essential items, clothing, and medical supplies. All of which she personally stores, sorts, washes, and gives out.
Over the years, volunteers have come to help, some staying and some short-lived after their need has been met. Lacking a permanent building other than her private residence to set up shop, each day Vickie and her volunteers have to open up the garage and pull out tote after tote, table after table. They set everything up in her driveway so that the community has access to come and go through it. Some days she goes through this process alone.
No transportation to get to Vickie’s place? No worries, there are volunteers to come pick you up and transport you back and forth. They will even deliver items to you if you prefer.
Vickie is the perfect example of what it means when you hear that one person can make a difference to many. It is contagious and sparks an entire community that cares. One that takes matters into their own hands based out of human need and suffering then acts upon that need. I asked Vickie one final question as I was wrapping up my interview and tour of her home. I wanted to know if there was one thing she could tell the entire community, what would it be? Vickie smiled at me, nodded her head and replied, “That EVERYONE is welcome. I don’t care who you are where you’re from or what your need is, I am here to help anybody night and day.”
(United States Census Bureau, 2010-2017)