Bobby Brunner spent the night on a sleeper sofa in the parking lot of the Helen Thackston middle school in York City.
A line of people stood along the sidewalk of Ridge Avenue, wrapping around to Philadelphia Street at the Thackston Charter School an hour and a half before Bobby opened up the gate to the summer “We Care Giveaway” event. It was 97 degrees that day and the parking lot of the Thackston school was filled with televisions, barbeque grills, computers, couches, and toys, all to be given away, free of charge, to those in need.
Just inside the Thackston school, Family First Health was providing free Blood Pressure Screenings and a dentist was promoting Dental Health Awareness. A classroom was filled with food, cleaning supplies and clothing, all free for the taking.
Sweat was pouring off of Bobby, founder of the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” organization, born of the July 2009 fires on Chestnut Street that displaced dozens of York City residents. Bobby’s granddaughter, Tilaya, who was five years old at the time said “Pop Pop, help them please.”, and help them he did. Bobby mobilized with his neighbors on Chestnut Street to hold a Block Party to benefit the fire victims. Bobby found that giving and helping those in the throws of crisis and need was so energizing, inspiring and invigorating that he had to do it again.
His first community giveaway event was held at Love’s Auto Sales on Market Street in October, 2009. Bobby advertises the giveaway events then solicits, collects, loads, hauls and stores donated items until the Big Day. With the help of volunteers and supporting agencies, he displays household items, food and clothing for those in need to peruse and take at no cost.
Bobby grew up on the corner of College and Pine Streets in the city. His father opened his home to anyone in need of a place to sleep. He said “It didn’t matter what color your skin was.” Bobby struggled with addiction for years and now, clean and sober, his mission is to Pay it Forward. His personal anthem is Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.” He takes the words to heart and to the street.
“He’s a five foot eight package of ‘can do’. He’s a fire-cracker. I love his inspiration.” said Dr. David Uhrik of West Side Dental.
Bobby, a laborer at Graham Packaging, buys most of the food to be given away at the giveaway events. He works over-time, earning extra money to buy food to cheerfully give away. He is prescribed blood pressure medication, but allocates all of his dollars to purchasing food for the events. He winds up in hot water with his physician, Dr.Tyndall-Smith at Family First Health, for not purchasing and taking his medication. Dr. Tyndall-Smith recently made arrangements for Bobby to receive his medication free of charge so that he can remain healthy as he carries out his giving mission.
Bobby and “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” have held events at various locations throughout the city including Crispus Attucks, the Lincoln Charter School and most recently at the Helen Thackston Charter School. Oscar Rossum, Sr. is the President of the School Board for the Lincoln & Thackston Charter Schools. Mr. Rossum opened up his school to Bobby to host the Summer “We Care Giveaway” event. “I tear up when I talk about Bobby”, said Mr. Rossum, “He has limitations compared to many people who have resources, yet he’s out here making things happen out of little or nothing. We will do it again in our schools and we will open our doors.” said Mr. Rossum
Four teenage volunteers from the Empowering Youth program facilitated by Ms. Jerri Zimmerman staffed the registration desk and directed folks through the maze of free goods and services. The sign in sheets show that about 1,200 people attended the event.
Gail Wilson, a single parent of four children walked one hour to come to the giveaway event. She is participating in job training and earning her GED. “I need things desperately.” she said. Gail found toys for her children and clothing for herself, but by the time she arrived, all the food was gone.
Amber, Jason and their two year-old daughter Jaiden moved to York City after their home in Felton was destroyed by fire in June. They lost almost all of their belongings in that fire and they came to the giveaway event to find replacement house wares and clothing. They left with a couch, a painting and some toys and clothes.
Tom Palmer of “Tom’s Snow” brought his snowball truck to the event and made a donation to the cause. I heard the heartwarming story of how Bobby and Tom met one summer day when Bobby bought snow cones for two children whose parents were fighting. Bobby said “They didn’t need to see that. It’s hard on kids. I just wanted to get them away from that.” “Bobby is something special.”, Tom told me as he served me a Green Apple snow cone.
Don and Lanette Miller showed up in their F150 pick-up truck to drop items off for the giveaway. They wound up staying and hauling furniture from the event site to family homes throughout the city. “We have had people in the City of York help us out numerous times, both financially and physically – when things were at their darkest. We decided to Pay it Forward.”
Through the oppressive heat, people smiled, said “thank you”, made eye contact, hugged one another, served, and loved each other by giving and sharing. No one’s smile was brighter than Bobby Brunner’s.
Bobby Brunner and “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is unstoppable. What started as a Block Party benefit has taken on the form of a community initiative. Bobby has garnered the support and endorsement of the York County United Way, the Salvation Army, the York-Adams American Red Cross, Re-Source York , York City Police Department and others. Bobby has been nominated for a Jefferson Award for Public Service and he has his sites set on hosting a giveaway event, complete with entertainment and a hefty dose of free services at Sovereign Bank Stadium in 2011.
He’s busy planning his seventh and final giveaway event for 2010. I spoke to him on the phone last night and his energy, enthusiasm, and initiative had my heart pounding in the way that only caring and sharing with those in need can. He already has a box truck and several other spaces filled with furniture and goods. He intends to rent a storage unit so that he can keep collecting items. Bobby has an impressive list of donors of goods, services and entertainment including Sneaker Villa, World of Cuts (haircutting), and the Temple Guard Drill Team lined up for the event.
Watching Bobby carry out his work and listening to him talk about his vision for giving, caring and sharing reminds me that when the problems of York City and even the world seem insurmountable, change really begins with one person.
The Fall “We Care Giveaway” event is slated for October 16, 2010 from Noon -5PM at the United Way Building at 800 East King Street in York. To donate items or non-perishable food, or to volunteer at the event, please contact Bobby Brunner at (717) 434-7656. Items may also be delivered to Re-Source York (235 N. Beaver Street, York) and designated for the “We Care Giveaway”.
“What makes this a success is my community.” Bobby Brunner