By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — My Brother’s Keeper, the Christian charity that provides furniture free of charge to local families in need, just completed its 1,000th delivery since opening its second location in Dartmouth in the fall of 2013.
According to Josh Smith, director of the Dartmouth facility, the 1,000th delivery happened a full year ahead of schedule. Their initial forecasts called for the milestone delivery to be completed in early 2016.
“We projected we’d receive so much furniture and so many donations to be delivered to so many families and under our projections we didn’t think we’d be making our 1,000th delivery until next spring,” Smith told The Anchor. “So we were pleasantly surprised and there’s a lot of credit to go around.”
Noting that the Dartmouth facility — centrally located between Fall River and New Bedford — has not only been ideal to meet the needs of struggling families in two of the largest cities in the diocese, Smith said it has also provided a bevy of student volunteers from nearby schools like Bishop Stang High School and Bishop Connolly High School.
“Our student volunteers here have been so supportive,” he said. “The numbers have been just incredible. I’d say we have more than 600 students who come here and help out every week. That is why we’re so far ahead of schedule. Our model is such that we have a very small staff — there are just three paid staff workers at this location — and so we really depend on having volunteers walk through our doors and that’s exactly what has happened.”
In addition to the two Catholic high schools, Smith said student volunteers from UMass Dartmouth and Providence College in Rhode Island have also become involved, which has made all the difference.
“At some point, hitting 1,000 is just a number, but it means that we’re going to be serving more families in need and we’re going to bring Christ’s love and hope to them,” Smith said. “They’re really struggling and their faith is being tested, so to see a group of volunteers coming in with smiles on their faces, it means a lot.”
“Without question, the single biggest factor in accomplishing this milestone so quickly has been the tremendous involvement of volunteers, especially student volunteers,” said Erich Miller, president of My Brother’s Keeper. “More than 600 students have already walked through our doors in Dartmouth and taken on our mission as their own.”
The landmark 1,000th delivery was made in Fall River to Carmen, a mother of two young children, on March 31.
“It’s a sad and tragic story,” said Smith, “but one we hear often at My Brother’s Keeper. Carmen became homeless after losing her job. To keep a roof over their heads, the family moved from friend to friend every couple of weeks. Carmen finally saved enough for an apartment of her own, but before we came the only thing she had was a borrowed futon.”
Student volunteers from Bishop Stang High School and Providence College helped deliver beds, a crib, two dressers, a kitchen table and chairs, and a full living room set, as well as household items such as linens, pots and pans, dishes and lamps. The two-bedroom apartment was fully furnished by the time they finished.
“I’ve had the opportunity to make several furniture deliveries like this one over the past two years,” said Anthony Mahoney-Pacheco, a senior at Bishop Stang High School and a Fall River resident. “What makes volunteering at My Brother’s Keeper so special is I get to meet the families we serve and see the difference I am making.”
“I think having just made our 1,000th delivery is a huge accomplishment,” said Sharon Kumar, a student volunteer from UMass Dartmouth. “Just to know how many people we’ve been able to help over this past year has been mind-blowing.”
“The first time you deliver furniture to a family, it’s eye-opening, because you don’t really know what to expect,” added Faith Krefft, a student volunteer from Providence College. “You walk into this family’s home and they welcome you in and you’re giving them something that’s so valuable and meaningful to them. You give them a couch or a bed and they’re so grateful for the small things we do for them.”
This marks the latest in a series of milestones for My Brother’s Keeper.
In 2013, the ministry celebrated its 25th anniversary and made its 100,000th delivery of furniture, food or Christmas assistance (two additional programs provided by its Easton facility). This past December, My Brother’s Keeper provided Christmas assistance to more than 3,000 families for the first time in its history.
My Brother’s Keeper chose to locate its second facility on the South Coast given the level of need locally and the lack of furniture resources available to struggling families in the area. Thanks to generous community support, the organization has extended its furniture assistance program to serve 18 surrounding cities and towns.
“Between our Dartmouth and Easton facilities, we cover from the South Coast to the south shore of Massachusetts,” Smith said. “We try to keep our delivery area to within a 30-minute radius. We started providing our service here in Fall River, but as of the first of this year we now provide service to New Bedford as well. We’re seeing a lot of calls coming in now and we’re looking forward to more families hearing about us.”
“What I have learned over the years is you never know where someone is going to need help,” Smith added. “Over the years, we have seen our services needed more in rural communities where people are struggling, too. We don’t want people to have to prove their need, we want to be able to meet them where they’re at and lift them up in the most dignified and respectful way possible.”
In addition to providing gently-used and refurbished furniture to families in need, the mission of My Brother’s Keeper is simple: “To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve.”
Although it doesn’t attempt to evangelize and there are no religious requirements to participate, with each furniture delivery My Brother’s Keeper offers a crucifix with the message: “We’re just the delivery people; this is the Man Who sent you the furniture.” Families receiving help are free to accept or decline the cross and anyone living in the service area is eligible to receive help, regardless of religious beliefs.
“Giving out a crucifix with each delivery really raises the bar,” Smith said. “That’s why we need to bring the best quality furniture to these families, because we’re doing this in Christ’s name. Many of the families that we’re assisting have been through real hardships — they’ve been sleeping on the floor, they’ve had to deal with bed bugs — and these can be very traumatic experiences.”
This is where the volunteer efforts of people like Ron Medeiros come into play.
Medeiros (right), who had worked for the City of New Bedford before retiring four years ago, now spends two to three days a week volunteering at My Brother’s Keeper, where he assembles and builds wooden box spring frames.
“I’ve been here almost a year-and-a-half and I’ve put together almost 1,100 box springs,” Medeiros said. “I’m just happy I found My Brother’s Keeper. I was going to walk dogs in a dog shelter, but I decided that wasn’t for me.”
“Since he started here, he’s helped get more than 1,000 people up off the floor,” Smith said. “If we had to go out and purchase these box springs, it would probably cost us another $60,000 a year — and that’s money we can now put back into the program and buy things like mattresses and linens. Many of our vendors will provide products at cost, which also helps us to serve as many families as possible.”
Dan Boucher, a volunteer who has become known as the “resident fix-it guy” at the Dartmouth facility, does everything from carpentry work to refinishing tables to fixing appliances.
“I tell people, they never told me what I couldn’t do, so I do a little bit of everything,” Boucher said. “I’m glad with what I’ve been doing. I’m happy and it keeps my wheels spinning. And it’s very fulfilling to me to do this work.”
Although a lot of retirees from the area have come in to volunteer, Smith said they are always looking for more help at the Dartmouth facility.
“We’re always looking for help with a variety of tasks, particularly during the mornings when students are in classes,” he said. “Everything from cleaning furniture to packaging linens to assembling box springs to testing appliances — there’s really no shortage of projects.”
For Smith, My Brother’s Keeper remains a unique community service that benefits the giver and recipient.
“The service we are providing is very much needed by these families, but in the long term, these young people who come and serve with us, their lives are enriched as well,” he said. “They’ll remember serving Carmen, our 1,000th recipient, and they’ll remember meeting her and her daughter and hearing about their situation. And we’ve seen students changed by the experience.”
My Brother’s Keeper’s Dartmouth facility picks up gently-used residential furniture in 24 area communities. No drop-offs are allowed. All donations are tax-deductible and no donated items are ever sold. All furniture is delivered free-of-charge to local families in need.
My Brother’s Keeper is also in need of volunteers of all ages and skills, for tasks such as assisting with furniture pickups and deliveries, assembling sets of linens and kitchenware, sewing, cleaning furniture and administration.
To donate, volunteer or learn more about My Brother’s Keeper, visit www.MyBrothersKeeper.org or call 774-305-4577.