My Brother’s Keeper expanding facility, outreach in Dartmouth


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

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DARTMOUTH, Mass. — If you ask Erich Miller, president of My Brother’s Keeper, there’s no greater example of Divine Providence than the fact that when they first decided to expand their ministry into the greater Fall River-New Bedford area four years ago, they leased a building that would lead them to purchasing a buildable lot just steps down the road.

“When the Dartmouth building came to our attention, it was ideal in that it was close to the highway and smack dab in the middle between New Bedford and Fall River,” Miller said. “I firmly believe that had we not leased that building, we never would have found or explored this option. Again, it’s another example of God leading us to where we need to be, one step at a time.”

Although their original lease agreement would allow them to buy and remain at the former warehouse facility at 999 Reed Road, Miller said they started to evaluate their options two years ago and found they needed a much larger facility with more volunteer parking and better access for delivery vehicles.

Little did they know that a nearby house lot with adjacent conservation land totaling 22 acres would be available to purchase.

“One of our volunteers is a developer and we brought him in to talk about potentially buying property,” explained Josh Smith, director of the Dartmouth location. “He found this property while looking on the MLS listings. I remember him saying: ‘I’m pretty sure it’s close to here on Reed Road. When we punched it into the GPS we realized it was two lots down!”

Like Miller, Smith can’t help but see the Hand of God in all this.

“This is how God works, you know? Quietly, subtly, but kind of nudging us in that direction,” he said. 

After purchasing the property in November 2015, My Brother’s Keeper spent the last 22 months raising money and working with area contractors and tradesmen — many of whom donated their in-kind services — to design and construct a new 18,200-square-foot pre-engineered metal building on the site that will virtually double the organization’s storage capacity, increase its total deliveries by more than 200 percent, and allow them to accommodate new programs like a food delivery service.

“The new facility will have a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, so we will have the ability to expand and offer a food delivery service, much like we do in Easton — delivering non-perishables, fresh fruits and vegetables directly into families’ homes locally,” Smith said. “We think that will also open up some more volunteer opportunities. Not everyone is passionate about or ready to move furniture, or physically can.”

And there’s little doubt that My Brother’s Keeper has quickly outgrown its current home.

Since first setting up shop in Dartmouth in the fall of 2013, the ministry has grown by leaps and bounds, steadily expanding its charitable outreach in providing furniture, food and Christmas assistance to area families in need.

“We now assist in New Bedford and have expanded to 18 surrounding communities within a half-hour radius from the facility,” Smith said. “We now go out as far as Marion, and up to the Taunton area where our Easton facility kicks in, so we’re covering most of southeastern Massachusetts at this point with the furniture assistance program.”

Smith estimated they are now making about 800 furniture deliveries a year from the Dartmouth location and requests continue to come in.

“Our wait list has grown and we’ve done a good job of trying to limit the amount of time that people are waiting, but that is certainly one of the challenges and one of the reasons this new facility is needed,” Smith said. “We hope and expect it will also attract more volunteers so we can try and keep pace with what is a very significant need in this community.”

Founded nearly 30 years ago by Jim and Terry Orcutt, who modestly began the charitable work in the cellar of their Taunton home back in 1988, My Brother’s Keeper soon expanded to a facility located adjacent to Stonehill College and Holy Cross Family Ministries in Easton.

The Christian ministry’s unique mission, inspired by Christ’s Words in Matthew 5:15, is simple: “To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve” by delivering furniture, free-of-charge, to local families in need.

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.

To that end, the new Dartmouth site will also include key Spiritual components such as a larger prayer room and future plans for an outdoor Rosary walk on the property that will be open to all.

“One of the things we’re excited about in the new building will be a larger prayer space,” Miller said. “Right now we can get about 25 people in there, but they’re packed in like sardines.

“I think (the lot) is 22 acres in total, and we’re only using about 4.5 acres, something like that. So there’s quite a bit left out back and what we have planned there is a Rosary walk. I’m hoping to have a life-sized crucifix installed and our intention is to have it look like a Rosary from the aerial view. We’ll add some benches and a kneeler — that type of thing.”

Modeled after its Easton counterpart, the new Dartmouth base of operations for My Brother’s Keeper will have the same look and layout by design, including the exterior red brick façade and even the iconic statue out front known as “The Divine Servant.” This telling depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper has become symbolic for My Brother’s Keeper.

“It’s a wonderful teaching tool and it really speaks to who we are as a ministry and we like to have it right out front,” Miller said. “It really sets the tone. In Easton we have a little boulder next to it that says: ‘To lead is to serve.’”

The bigger Dartmouth building will be about 50 percent larger — 23,000 gross square feet as opposed to 15,000 square feet in Easton. This extra space will accommodate a larger entrance foyer, more mezzanine storage area and more efficient loading docks.

“It’s not uncommon for us having a group of volunteers come in and we’re giving an orientation to 15 or 20 people, so the entrance of the new facility is much more open so there’s space for us to greet them,” Smith said. “The mezzanine is about 5,000 square feet that can be used for storage and to host some seasonal programs, like Christmas assistance. We also don’t have a proper loading dock currently — it’s all street-level loading. We have to lift every piece of furniture up and down 42 inches. Here, we’ll be able to slide it right on and off the truck.”

Noting that My Brother’s Keeper’s success is only possible thanks to the countless hours that volunteers give to the ministry every year, Miller said it has been “very affirming to us as a ministry” to see how quickly the Dartmouth facility has grown in such a short time.

“I’d say on an average year we see between 1,000 and 1,200 volunteers come through the facility and about two-thirds of them are students,” Smith added. “We’ve been very impressed with the willingness of this community to really engage in service and to want to help their neighbors in need. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to confidently move forward, expanding what we’re trying to do because we know people will continue to get involved and help us serve others.”

With the new facility nearing completion, Miller anticipates having a formal blessing and dedication sometime in August or September and he plans to invite Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., to celebrate Mass for the occasion.

And as for future expansion plans to service the remaining areas of the diocese like Cape Cod and the Islands, Miller prefers to leave that in God’s Hands.

“We don’t have plans at this point in time, but who knows what God has in store for us? I never say no to anything,” he said.

To donate, volunteer or learn more about My Brother’s Keeper, visit www.MyBrothersKeeper.org or call 774-305-4577.



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