History of Burners Without Borders Detroit Chapter
Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities.
Since that time, Burners without Borders has emerged as a civic outreach, community led, grassroots group that addresses gaping needs where the existing cultural and societal systems are failing. There are chapters all over the county each with its own mission.
I started the Detroit chapter in 2008 after doing it for a year just on my own. We call our project “Burners without Borders Detroit-Homeless Backpack Project” were we do direct action care to people on our streets to ease the discomfort of homelessness.
We are a 100% volunteer organization, no one is ever paid. We collect and fundraiser locally by holding small events in our community to cover our costs. And i am more recently starting to learn how to apply for grants which i was recently awarded one from the Pollination Project. And more recently from the Guilliom Family Foundation. These generous grants help level us up to created more backpacks each year.
Our aim is to find and assist people who do not go to shelters and there are many reasons not to as some are not clean, others only have folding chairs to sit on overnight, and sobriety is not always an option for folks so they are not able to use those services.
Over the past seven years we have given out over 1800 backpacks. Growing our numbers each year, during the 2014/15 winter year we created 430 backpacks. Each year our numbers grow. Please know we know that we do not have that skill-set to get people off the streets but we do hope to make one night a little easier to bear with a little bit of kindness, compassion and non-judgment.
We create supply filled backpacks that are filled with donated goods like; water, canned goods (fish, meat, beans) & can openers if they are not pull tabs, canned veggies and fruit, hygiene products like tissue, toothpaste & paste, deodorant etc, emergency blankets, soft cereal bars..many folks have no teeth so soft foods are mandatory, rain ponchos, emergency blankets, hygiene packs, canned protein, snacks, water, juice, hand-warmers, hats, gloves and socks, socks and more socks..as they are like gold on the street-just imagine cold wet feet. And if we have them we attach blankets to the packs with scarves.
This Project is a real “Me to We” project as it started out of the back of my Jeep. In winter 2006/2007 I started to see homeless under the bridges on the highways in Detroit and it made me realize I had too much stuff, don’t we all. So I started to fill my car with blankets and food then I would stop and take items to the people who I started to call the Highway Men. Brave or stupid i realize this..but it was a calling and I had to do it. Soon I ran out of stuff so I started to ask friends and family for donations and their extra stuff and now I bug anyone and everyone, even strangers like you!
Then the project leveled up when my friend Rosey asked her family to not give her Christmas gifts that year but to instead give her supplies to help me. She then gave me supplies separated into backpacks she was given. Selfless and genius, i will forever be thankful to her as I was just giving supplies out in paper and plastic bags.
Now I am honored that we have up to 160 folks in our community show up to our Annual Backpacking events to pack the backpacks, we have people holding various sized fundraiser all year round for us and we have people making connections for us that have afforded us gifts, donations and grants.
So many people have taken ownership and pride in helping fund-raise, collect and distribute the packs and I am so humbled and beyond honored to watch this project grow.
The supplies and packing all used to live in my basement and now we have a dedicated space donated to us in a local Detroit business where we can store all of our supplies and they even let us host the backpacking events . Thank you Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Last year over ten folks were out on the streets independently giving out backpacks, in years past it was only me alone or on occasion folks would come with me on the streets. So to me this is a big advancement and gives me more time to promote, organize, gather supplies and apply for grant and write letters to companies for support.. This year 98 backpacks left the backpacking event in the hands of volunteers.
Of the people giving out backpacks on the streets I do have one request of everyone who helps pass out backpacks and that is that they ask the name of the person they are engaging with and that they tell them their name. It is easy for us to ignore homeless as we busy ourselves with our phones or radios or just simple refuse to turn our heads. I hope to humanize the experience as everyone deserves to be acknowledged and I really do think we can change humanity if we just say “hi” to people, not just homeless, and mean it. Time to bust our bubbles and connect to others.
Thank you for your support in helping others and contributing to building a stronger community! As I tell everyone- we cannot do what we do without the help of others like YOU! Together we all do make a difference…one backpack at a time!
If you have ANY questions please feel free to ask..i know this is a ton of information.
Danielle ~doxie Kaltz
Burners without Borders Detroit