My Brother’s Keeper celebrates 30 years of service in Christ’s name


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

EASTON, Mass. — James Orcutt, who co-founded the My Brother’s Keeper apostolate with his wife Terry from the basement of their home in Taunton 30 years ago, is amazed by the ministry’s continued success.

“Looking back over 30 years, people often ask me if God had given you a flash-forward of My Brother’s Keeper (today) with two buildings, a fleet of trucks, a dozen employees, and some 140,000 (furniture) deliveries, what would your thought be then?” Orcutt recently told The Anchor. “And my answer is always the same — I would have run like heck!”

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All joking aside, Orcutt stressed that’s not how God works and you often don’t know His will until you see it in retrospect.

“We do not go forward in knowledge, we go forward in faith and we pray all the time for God to guide us toward His will,” Orcutt said. “But we don’t necessarily see His will in front of us — we only see God’s will when we look behind us. We look at how He led us from one point to another, from one person to another, from one organization to another, and from one challenge and one success to another. That is what gives us the courage to go forward in faith.”

It was 30 years ago on Mar. 21, 1988 that Jim and his wife Terry took that leap of faith and said a prayer that changed their lives and the lives of thousands of others in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Holding hands before a cross in their home, the couple quietly said the prayer which founded the My Brother’s Keeper ministry: “God, we want to bring Your love and hope to those who are lost and without hope, but we don’t know what to do. If You’ll guide us, we’ll put Your work first every day for the rest of our lives.”

Orcutt said the initial inspiration for My Brother’s Keeper came to them after attending a Cursillo retreat in 1986 at the Holy Cross Retreat House in Easton.

“We lived a Cursillo retreat two years before and the impetus for My Brother’s Keeper really came out of that experience,” Orcutt said. “God worked through the Cursillo movement to inspire us and fill us with His Spirit.”

Since then, God has blessed My Brother’s Keeper tremendously. The charity has grown from its modest beginnings in the Orcutts’ cellar in Taunton to a barn in West Bridgewater to a series of buildings in Brockton to its two current locations — a 15,000-square-foot facility next to Stonehill College in Easton serving the South Shore and a 23,000-square-foot building in Dartmouth serving the South Coast.

“It has been awe-inspiring over the last 30 years to witness the power of God to transform our simple efforts into a major ministry of loving service to our brothers and sisters in need,” Orcutt said.

When asked what he thinks is the secret to the ministry’s continued success, Orcutt maintains they have always remained committed to its original mission.

“Our mission is to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to people,” Orcutt said. “That’s why we exist. We do provide services, but we’re not in the furniture business, we’re not in the food business, we’re not in the Christmas gift business.”

And Orcutt is proud of the fact that to this day there are no eligibility requirements — financial or religious — for people to receive furniture, food or assistance from My Brother’s Keeper.

“I think one of the most important things that God led us to in the early days was a policy of no prerequisites for service,” Orcutt said. “When Terry and I first started, we were the only game in town giving furniture away, and we had people coming out of the woodwork. So we prayed and we asked God to give us some guidance.

“The answer came in the form of a recognition of something that we already knew deep down. We realized that in the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — Jesus performed many miracles. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, and the lepers clean. But there is not one miracle in the New Testament where before Jesus helped anybody He ever asked them a question to determine whether they were deserving or worthy. The most He ever said was, ‘What is it you want of Me?’”

That was motivation enough to inspire the Orcutts to “do it exactly the way Jesus does.”

Having grown up the youngest of eight children in a single-parent home, Jim Orcutt was also sensitive to and adamant about “not putting people through the ringer” he said when they came forward seeking assistance.

“As a society we have conditioned people to justify their need,” Orcutt said. “I saw my mother go through that back in the 1940s when she tried to get help. It’s so prevalent that people will call here for the first time looking for help, not knowing anything about us, and it takes us five minutes to stop them from giving us information that they are so used to giving to other places when they call. We tell them we don’t need that — all we need is their name and address and what they need.

“There would be no questions asked and that policy of not putting them through a ringer by asking a million questions so they have to qualify for help has meant the world to them and the people we serve absolutely love My Brother’s Keeper for that.”

Over the past three decades, thousands of volunteers have joined the Orcutts’ work — students, retirees, business owners and families from all walks of life, each offering their special gifts and talents. Today, more than 4,000 volunteers a year walk through the doors of the two My Brother’s Keeper facilities, including an estimated 1,300 student volunteers who attend more than 100 different schools.

“They’re all great kids, but like my own grandkids, they just do not know what they don’t know,” Orcutt said. “So part of our orientation for those youngsters is although they’ve been told it’s more blessed to give than it is to receive, it is equally true that it’s more blessed to receive than it is to give. And the gift of those whom we serve in Jesus’ name is the humble acceptance of our help. That’s the gift they give us.

“So we’re a teaching ministry, also. We’re trying to teach youngsters how to make the longest trip in the world — 15 inches from the head to the heart. That’s really what we’re all about. So they understand that service is not about being a big shot. We go humbly, we go quietly with respect for people and an understanding that it’s tough for these people to be on the receiving end.”

Working side-by-side with the 12-person My Brother’s Keeper staff, these volunteers help make an estimated 9,000 deliveries annually to local families in need. In total, the nonprofit has completed 135,000 deliveries over the last three decades. 

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.

“What does the word charity mean? Charity means love, that’s what it is,” Orcutt said. “We should give our love and our help to people unconditionally, the way we receive it from God. What God gives us, He gives us for free — gratis, no charge, no conditions. And the reality is God wants us to have some humility about what we do.”

To that end, the great symbol of My Brother’s Keeper is Christ kneeling down before Peter to wash his feet at the Last Supper — a statue of which is located outside both of the ministry’s facilities.

“Terry and I prayed on that and we wanted to have something in front of our building that spoke of service,” Orcutt said. “We searched for many, many months to find the right statue and we finally found that one. Because Jesus’ message is service: ‘What I have done for you, you should do for others.’ And there’s a message of humility. Jesus told Peter, ‘I want you to serve people, I want you to lead My Church, but I want you to do it with humility. I’m not sending you out to judge them, I’m sending you out to serve them.’”

My Brother’s Keeper will celebrate its 30th anniversary with some traditional events throughout the year, including a Lovely Ladies Spring Gala this month, a Family Walk in June, a Golf Tourney in July, and a Hungry Men’s Dinner in November. 

The charity will also create a special 30th anniversary webpage on its website which includes a timeline and pictures at www.MyBrothersKeeper.org. The webpage will include a special 30th Anniversary Guest Book where anyone whose life has been touched by My Brother’s Keeper — whether it be a recipient or volunteer — is invited to share a message.

Although he’s happy that My Brother’s Keeper has reached the 30-year milestone, Orcutt said he and his wife Terry could never have done it alone.

“I remember a deacon once told me: if you dedicate your life to doing God’s work, He will send you everything you need,” Orcutt said. “And not only that, He’ll send you the very best! That prediction turned out to be true, and He has sent us a tremendous amount of support.”


© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts