A somewhat unusual project that MRFF got involved in at the end of 2010 was providing some last minute help to make a crazy plan to get toys to children in the Gulf happen in time for the holidays. How did this come about? Well, in her “spare” time, MRFF’s Senior Research Director, Chris Rodda, works with a student group at Kean University in New Jersey called “Be The Change,” whose summer project this year was painting and doing repairs on the home of an elderly woman in New Orleans who had been in need of help since Hurricane Katrina. As the students were planning this project, the BP oil spill happened, so they decided to spend part of their trip in the area affected by the spill, ending up in the Gulfport, Mississippi area.
One of the unique things about “Be The Change” is that they remain involved for the long haul with the people they help, so they had been staying in touch with the people they met in the Gulf over the summer, particularly a fisherman named “Red,” who had taken two of the students and Dr. Bowe out on his boat to collect water and marine life samples to be brought back to the university for independent testing.
Through “Red,” the students found out that many of the victims of the oil spill, who had lost an entire season of work, still don’t even have enough money to put food on the table, let alone buy toys for their kids. (To add insult to injury, BP was going around right before the holidays offering desperate Gulf residents $5,000 settlement checks if they signed an agreement relinquishing any right to sue BP in the future.) So, “Be The Change” went into action.
A New York radio station, 92.3 NOW, was going to be at a mall in New Jersey holding an event called “Stuff The Bus,” packing a bus with donated toys to be distributed to kids in need through various groups. Students from “Be The Change,” and a few other volunteers recruited by Dr. Bowe (including Chris Rodda’s mother), helped stuff the donated toys onto the bus, and over 650 of those toys were earmarked for the kids in the Gulf. So far, so good. A storage company then donated the use of a storage space to sort and box up the toys for shipment, and things were still going smoothly. The only thing left to figure out was where the money to ship the toys was going to come from, but time was getting short. These toys needed to be on a plane the next day, or they wouldn’t get to the kids in time.
Just as it was looking increasingly impossible that the toys were going to make it in time, Chris happened to be on the phone with Mikey, and mentioned the toy dilemma. Mikey’s immediate response was that we had to get these toys to these kids, whatever it took! A few hours later, the toys were on a UPS plane, en route from New Jersey to Mobile, Alabama to be picked up the next morning at the UPS hub and hauled to Mississippi by “Red.”
Now, it just so happens that the Baas family, MRFF’s clients who wouldn’t be spending the holidays with their own daughter because the Cadets for Christ cult at the Air Force Academy have ripped apart their family, happen to live in Gulfport. So, even though they wouldn’t have their own daughter home for Christmas, Peter and Jean Baas volunteered on the receiving end, helping to unpack and give out the toys, the final step in the crazy plan to bring some joy to kids in Mississippi from their friends in New Jersey.
Stuffing the 92.3 NOW toy bus:
A couple of Marines from Toys for Tots stop by to lend a hand:
Toys for Tots Marines with Kean students and volunteers (Chris Rodda’s mom Anne, second from left)
Packing everything up at the storage unit:
Kean University students thank MRFF
Left to right behind MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda: Kean University students Kayla Duncan, Nicolette Maggio, and Rebecca Bowe, and Kean professor Dr. Norma Bowe
“Red” and MRFF client Jean Baas unpacking the toys in Gulfport:
The kids get their toys:
Jean helping give out the toys
The greatest thing about this project? Religion didn’t matter. Everyone just came together with one common goal — to help some of our fellow Americans in the Gulf have a little bit happier holiday. This project was pulled off by Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Atheists alike. We’re not quite sure what “Red” is, but this is his tattoo:
All of us at MRFF hope everyone enjoyed a great holiday of their choice (or a nice extra day off if they don’t have a holiday of choice), and extend the best wishes for a wonderful New Year!