PBJ (People Bringing Joy) for Denver’s Homeless
Woolpert’s Spotlight on Service
Vicki Elrod, administrative assistant in Woolpert’s Denver office, said her daughters’ kind hearts and her own belief in helping others sparked a grassroots community outreach to Denver’s homeless.
People Bringing Joy, or PBJ, started in Elrod’s house and soon took over the garage. “My two teen daughters spent a lot of time at music venues in downtown Denver where they encountered homeless teens and military vets,” Elrod remembered. “As the winter weather moved in, they noticed many of the homeless were without coats and proper footwear.”
The teens and a few of their friends mobilized, collecting supplies from a variety of sources. “They asked classmates to donate extra hats, scarves, gloves and boots,” Elrod said. “They also spoke with some donation centers about getting their clothing overflow.”
Then they went to social media, posting on Facebook about their search for donations of peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches.
“Our community came out in full force!” Elrod said. By the end of the first week, they had received donations of bottled water, granola bars, industrial-sized jars of peanut butter and jelly, and boxes of single-serve chips. In addition to cash donations, they also received winter clothing, toothbrushes from a local dentist, bread and fresh fruit from a nearby grocery store, and socks from Target.
With donations in hand, they set their plan in motion. Elrod and the teens headed downtown one Sunday every month to distribute sack lunches and clothing to the area’s homeless. On that first Sunday, right before Thanksgiving in 2010, PBJ handed out 200 sack lunches, 80 coats, 100 sets of hats and gloves and more than 200 pairs of socks.
Elrod said it seemed that word spread quickly. “Each Sunday we handed out donations, it seemed that more homeless appeared,” Elrod said. “The number of homeless people in our community is staggering, especially here in Colorado where the cost of housing has become too expensive for those making minimum wage.”
After contacting the city to find a regular, designated distribution area, PBJ was permitted to set up tables of clothing, personal hygiene products and even books in a local park.
“I was surprised by how many people were willing to help,” Elrod said. “Our UPS driver showed up one Sunday with dozens of hard-boiled eggs from the chickens she raised. Another time she baked cupcakes to pass out. The deli in Woolpert’s office building, Munch-a-Sub, gave us two five-gallon pails of chili that we gave out on a cold evening. A neighborhood woman donated the hats and scarves she crocheted over the summer, and we handed them out at Christmas time.”
The PBJ project continued regularly until 2016, when many of the teens involved moved on to other ventures in their lives. “My daughter Amber is now the mother of two small children,” Elrod said, “but my daughter Kate is still involved in helping the homeless. And a large group from their high school carries on the PBJ tradition.”
Elrod still tries to participate three to four times a year, especially during the colder months.
“I spoke with so may homeless people and learned their stories and was so touched by them,” she said. “I am so thankful to my community for all they did in the beginning and continue to do to this day. I am grateful that the youth are still willing to carry on this tradition.”
Elrod said it’s important to “look outside our busy lives and beyond our bubble and realize there are some people who really need a hand. If you see someone on a regular basis and notice that they don’t have warm clothing as the weather changes, think about giving them an extra coat or a warm meal.”
Most communities have shelters or organizations dedicated to helping the homeless. Elrod suggests simply searching the internet for these organizations’ phone numbers and websites. She also suggests asking local churches about their programs and how you can become involved.