Program #0105 for Wednesday, August 3, 2011: My Brother’s Keeper

August 3, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Jim and Terry Orcutt, founders of My Brother’s Keeper, and Jack Shaughnessy Sr. of Shaughnessy and Ahern Hauling and Rigging

Today’s topics: My Brother’s Keeper, a volunteer ministry providing assistance in southeastern Massachusetts

Summary of today’s show:

Jim and Terry Orcutt share with Scot the story of how they started My Brother’s Keeper, a mission to provide furniture and food to the needy in southeastern Massachusetts while preserving dignity and sharing the love of Christ. Jack Shaughnessy, a benefactor of MBK also tells what inspires him about their charity and why he’s involved.

1st segment: Scot said the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy are essential elements of our faith. He is inspired by ministries that integrate the corporal and spiritual works together. One such ministry is My Brother’s Keeper in the Brockton and Easton area. Scot welcomed Jim and Terry Orcutt and Jack Shaughnessy to the show.

Jack had asked Scot on our first show to have Jim and Terry on the show. Jack said it’s an extraordinary all-volunteer ministry. Most of the volunteers are students at local Catholic high schools and colleges. Jack had read about a young woman at Stonehill College who was assigned to My Brother’s Keeper as part of her social service requirement and she spent two weeks there. Part of My Brother’s Keeper’s ministry delivers household furniture to people who often have none at all. They give furniture that is secondhand but looks like new to people who are often living in small apartments in the poorer parts of Brockton and who are sleeping on the floors of their apartments because they can’t afford anything more than rent. When they deliver the furniture, the people are often so very grateful, but Jim tells them, “Don’t thank us. We’re only the delivery people.” They then give the recipients a small crucifix for their home. The young woman after spending two weeks there literally had her whole life turned around.

Scot asked how the idea for My Brother’s Keeper came about. Terry said she and Jim had lived a Cursillo retreat weekend in the late 80s and after that weekend, they saw a movie about a mom who lost her job and struggled to find a place to live and ended up having to give up her daughter to foster care. They were so touched by it that they wanted to do something. They saw the empty bedroom their grown son had just vacated and thought that this was all the woman needed. So they made a covenant with the Lord that they would do what He asked of them.

Jim said the promise said to God that they wanted to bring their love and hope to people, but they didn’t know what to do and they asked him to guide them. They had a desire and a willingness, but that isn’t getting the job done without action. At the time they were both working in low-paying jobs in a rented house. They made up flyers on 8.5×11 paper with “We collect things for homeless people.” They started to get calls from people who had material to donate and they would pick them up with their car and store them in their cellar. Their philosophy is that if you work for the Lord you should take your work seriously, but not yourself. They had to laugh at themselves because they eventually realized they had no one to give the material to, so they looked up homeless shelters and started making contacts in the area. He finally had someone tell him that she had an apartment but no furniture and that’s how they started.

There’s a danger of over-thinking things. Jim said he tells t heir college student volunteers that there’s only three things that we need for God to do great things through us: A desire to serve God and people in his name; a willingness to prioritize that desire; and to act.

The ministry has grown overtime and God has provided as they grew. When they started they had an ‘85 Cavalier with roof racks, their cellar, and Jim and Terry. God provided “sufficient unto their needs.” In the past 23 years they’ve been in several locations, but now they’re in a state-of-the-art, 15,000-square-foot, brand-new building built in 2002 with private funds adjacent to Stonehill College; a fleet of five trucks; a staff of 6; and 2,000 volunteers, 450 of whom are student volunteers. Most of the student volunteers come from private schools and upper-middle class and affluent homes.

One of Jim’s own grandkids who just graduated high school has never seen the kind of conditions some of their recipients live in: peeling paint, cockroaches, garbage in the driveway, cramped triple-decker apartments. They spend a great deal of time with experiential learning. Sometimes the kids ask how the adults spend so much time on the students. Jim says its because this generation will be the leaders of society in 20 years and they want to be able to make the decisions about the poor from their experiences, not just academics or intellectual exercises.

Terry said it’s often devastating for the students to walk into some of these homes for the first time; to see them with not a single piece of furniture. They often talk about how their bedrooms at home are bigger than the whole apartment and how sad it is that the little kids are running around indoors in the winter with coats on because there is no heat and the ovens are open to keep them warm. They see how excited the kids get over a new bed or having a refrigerator full of food. The students get to know the people that are served and become friends with them. They realize that they are ordinary people just like them.

Terry said there all types of people who call for help; battered women, men who’ve lost jobs. She had one woman who called and said they had nothing in their apartment. In talking with her, she heard that all they had was a small mattress on the floor. They itemized a list of all they would need. In the middle of the call, they got cut off and she never called Terry back. Terry got very concerned so they loaded up the truck with everything. The woman was overwhelmed that they came anyway. When Jim plugged in the fridge it didn’t work and he apologized and said they would bring another, but the woman said she had been too embarrassed to tell them that she didn’t have electricity. Jim asked her how she was eating. She said the man who lived upstairs would run a cord down the stairs and she borrowed a microwave and that’s how she fed her children. So Jim and Terry called the electric company and arranged to have her bill taken care of. The woman called and said to Terry that the night before they came with her furniture, their electricity was disconnected and she took her girls out onto the porch and all they had to eat was an apple. She cut the apple in quarters, gave them all a piece, and taught them to sing Alleluia to the Lord. And when the truck came the next morning, she told the kids that the Lord heard their prayer.

Scot said to Jack that we often think of poverty as something over in Africa or somewhere else. While Jack had a hard upbringing himself, was he shocked to see the depths of poverty we have in cities like Brockton? Jack said he is shocked and dismayed to see how close it is to us. Jack said he attended Boston College high School and there he learned how to become a man for others. It is mandatory today for all their students to get involved in ministries such as My Brother’s Keeper. Jack said even towns that are considered to be affluent have dozens of deliveries from My Brother’s Keeper.

2nd segment: Scot said to Jim that he was moved earlier this week to read on their website their policies.

  • My Brother’s Keeper shall have no prerequisites for service. No one seeking assistance shall be required to justify their need or provide any information, e.g., an income statement.
  • Each person that we have the privilege of serving will be presented a crucifix as a gift for their home, and the following message shall be conveyed:
  • “We’re just the delivery people, this is the person who sent you the furniture.”
  • If the crucifix is declined for a stated religious reason, e.g., “No thank you, I’m Jewish,” our reply should be: “No problem … whoever your God is … that’s who sent you the furniture.”
  • All My Brother’s Keeper vehicles shall be unmarked so as to protect the privacy and dignity of those whom we are given the privilege of serving.

Jim said all of their policies emanated from situations that came about that they knew would come up again. The policies give them a consistent way of dealing with the situation. Jim said they aren’t trained ministers and so these policies come from their experience in the mission. The mission of the organization is the reason why it exists. He said too often you see many organizations with long, involved mission statements that even the president of the organization would have trouble repeating to you. The mission has to be memorable such that everyone knows what it is. The mission of My Brother’s Keeper emanates from Jim and Terry’s promise to God: “My Brother’s Keeper is a ministry of volunteers whose mission is to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those it serves.” It occurred to them to figure out who they should be serving, but it dawned on them that in all the Gospel miracles Jesus never once asked a question of the people before he healed or otherwise served them. So they resolved to do it like Jesus did. From that came the policy of no prerequisites for service; no questions asked.

It’s the most controversial policy for new volunteers. They get questions about whether people take advantage of that. Jim said there’s no system that can’t be circumvented. But that’s the good news: Because of the mission. Keep your eye on the ball. They exist to bring love and hope of Jesus Christ to those they serve. Who needs their mission more than the guy who would sell a kitchen set for $25 to buy drugs? If the price of giving the guy a crucifix and telling him that God loves him is the cost of a cheap kitchen set that they never run out of, then that’s a cheap price. Jesus said you don’t send a doctor for well people, but for sick people. This becomes the policy people embrace the most and that they love.

Jim is constantly inspired by the faith of the people he serves. He saw it growing up, watching his mother serving the elderly lady who lived downstairs from them who had nothing. Jim said they recently served a grandmother who was living in a furnished room. Her daughter had gone to prison for dealing drugs so she went to court to ask for custody of her two grandchildren. The judge said she had to get an apartment and she got one in a bad area. She contacted My Brother’s Keeper and they outfitted her completely. When he gave her the crucifix and told her, “This is the person who sent you the furniture,” she said to him, “Oh yes, he’s always been very good to me.” Jim thought about it all the way home. What would he be saying if he’d had to sleep on the floor for a month with his two grandchildren. He’d be asking God why he’d forsaken him. Three months later, Jim heard she’d moved to a new apartment and she need a full bed. Jim brought her the bed and while he was there a neighbor told him what had happened to the old bed. Tw months after the first delivery, a young girl with a new baby had moved from shelter into the apartment above her. The girl had nothing so the woman gave her the bed.

Scot noted a brochure from My Brother’s Keeper that says, “We carry furniture and food. We deliver hope.” Some of the other policies of My Brother’s Keeper are that they don’t take any state of federal funding so they can continue to give people the crucifix as part of the ministry. They don’t sell anything or take any money for services. “My Brother’s Keeper shall not accumulate money beyond what is necessary to ensure its ability to meet the annual operating expenses of the ministry. All surplus funds must be spent promptly on goods and services for those we serve for Christ or as part of the tithing program. Each day of service at My Brother’s Keeper shall begin and end in community prayer— i.e., intentions of those we serve as well as those we serve with, a stating of the mission, and the Our Father to help us remain focused on our mission and mindful of the privilege of service. All staff, volunteers, and visitors will be invited to participate.”

Terry remains going on a delivery to a single dad with three girls and he needed furniture. On the way to the delivery, they’d received a call from a guy who wanted to put signs on all the trucks to label who they are. They showed up to the house and all the neighborhood kids gathered round to see what was going on. While they were doing this delivery they realized it wasn’t a good idea to put their name on the trucks because it would embarrass the kids for everyone to know they are receiving charity.

Scot said to Jack that they receive donations of furniture, but it has to be in very good shape because this is a gift from Jesus. Jack said the reason is because they want to treat every person with dignity and love and respect. The furniture must look like new.

3rd segment: Scot asked how they deliver food to the hungry and the Christmas program. Jim said they have basic services in addition to the furniture. They pick up furniture in about 35 towns and deliver in 25 of them. They deliver the food mainly in the greater Brockton area. They do about 1,000 furniture deliveries per year and about 3,500 food deliveries. They give out a great food order worth about $117, including the normal staples, fresh milk, juice, eggs, meats, and fresh vegetables. It probably covers at least a week’s supply. The main component of the ministry is the delivery. They are going to people who have no way of getting the furniture or food. They serve many elderly, veterans, single moms without a car.

They started in 1988 and incorporated in 1990. In that year they started a Christmas program because they were hearing from people who needed assistance at Christmas and for one reason or another couldn’t meet the requirements of similar programs elsewhere. The first year they provided gifts and food for 14 families in Brockton. Every year that has grown in both the people served and the people who volunteer. Last year, they provided all-new gifts and food to 2,774 families in 74 towns. And every gift and package was delivered to each home by their volunteers.

Under the operating policies, it is integral and important to them that whatever service they provide, it is done in such a way that the recipient understands that what they are receiving is not coming from My Brother’s Keeper, but from Jesus Christ. With the furniture, they provide the crucifix with the message: “This is the man who sent it.” In every food box, there is a picture of Jesus Christ, which is deliberately shaded so he could be white, black, Hispanic or Asian, and the message says, “I hear your prayers. I have not forgotten you.” At Christmas, they print 50,000 small tags, each with a child’s name and each with picture of the Nativity scene that says, Happy Birthday, Jesus.” Every one will understand that what they receive comes from God.

Scot asked Terry how they manage Christmas gifts to more than 10,000 children and adults. Terry said the 2,000 volunteers actually “shop” for the gifts within the facility among items that have been donated, and MBK also buys what they need. They also have many parishes that have giving trees and they donate the gifts to them. Volunteers distribute the gifts with their own cards. It is very organized and very spirit-filled. The night after Thanksgiving, at 7pm they have a Mass with more than 700 people at MBK’s facility. Then they set up the facility as Santa’s Workshop. She said they start each day in prayer and end it in prayer. At Christmas the closing prayer is around 8pm and they read Noel Henry’s “Alleluia to the Lord”, they shut off all the lights, and start their prayer while gazing on a Nativity scene.

Jim said the Christmas season is amazing for what it provides to both those they serve and the volunteers. He said parents are looking for meaningful opportunities to show their children how to serve God and hear what he’s calling us to do. Grandparents, parents, and children of all ages come together to serve wrapping presents together as family. No one got more excited than the kids. Each volunteer family is given a particular recipient family to shop for, with specific genders and ages. A teenage girl can get gifts for a teenage girl. They feel needed and like that they have a specific contribution to make to someone. The student who Jack talked about said she couldn’t believe that growing up in Easton, she didn’t know such poverty was right next door to her. She received what parents all want our kids to have: a deep appreciation for how fortunate they are. He said he tells the student volunteers that the only difference between them and the people they’re serving is the family they were born into.

Scot read the My Brother’s Keeper prayer:

Lord…
When I have food, Help me to remember the hungry.
When I lie in my bed, Help me to remember those who sleep on the floor.
When I have a warm home, Help me to remember the homeless.
When I have work, Help me to remember those without jobs.
When I experience the joy of giving to my children,
Help me to remember the agony of those who must watch their children go without.
By remembering, Help me to destroy my indifference and arouse my compassion.
Make me concerned enough to act in your name, to help those who cry out to you for that which I so often take for granted.

Jack said it is a magnificent summation of the mission of My Brother’s Keeper. He said people may not realize the actual joy of the person who gets involved with the mission by giving their time, talent, or treasure. God loves a cheerful giver and there’s no limit to the blessings God will give to a cheerful giver. Scot said we can never outdo God’s generosity in return.

4th segment: It’s time to announce the winner of the weekly WQOM Benefactor Raffle.

Our prize this week is a series of 5 CD’s from the Mary Foundation:

  • Seven Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn;
  • The Mass Explained by Fr. Larry Richards;
  • Marriage and the Eucharist by Christopher West;
  • The Eucharist Explained by Richard May; and
  • The Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet on CD

and two boxes of Chocolate Butter Nut Munch – one milk chocolate and one dark chocolate — made by the Nuns of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, MA.

This week’s winner is Kristin & Doug Seed from Salem, NH. Congratulations Kristin and Doug!

If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit WQOM.org. For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

5th segment: Scot asked Jim the best way for people to get involved. Jim said individuals, schools, parishes, organizations, and companies can find out more by coming down to the facility and see. Contact them at 508-238-5712 and let them know you’re interested about learning more and arrange to come down as an individual or group for a tour of the facility or discuss the various volunteer opportunities. If you’re not able to come down, visit the website and see the many ways to be involved, even if you can’t be present physically. Most importantly, pray for them for God’s guidance first and foremost and for God to continue to bless them. Serving people goes beyond obligation or responsibility. It is a privilege. Since the Book of Samuel, God has asked “Who can I send?” and when he gives the answer, he sees you.

Terry said there families that have been recipients of assistance who now give back either through donations or working on the various deliveries. Jack has been a financial assist to My Brother’s Keeper. He said it’s an all-volunteer organization and much of the facility is built with contributions from volunteers. Everything they do advances Christ’s work on earth. When you get involved, you are moved.

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