In 1993, while inspecting a bridge in Anne Arundel County, Severna Park native Steve “Buddy” Finch encountered a man living under the bridge while having nothing to eat. Each day, Finch would bring the man lunch, which led to him visiting other encampments under bridges and in wooded areas throughout Anne Arundel County and giving the people there what they needed, whether it be toiletries, food or clothing.
Eventually, those efforts grew into a nonprofit, Bkind Gives, which has grown exponentially since its creation in March 2018.
“The people at Bkind Gives are just great,” said Randallstown resident Kirt Greenburg, who has worked closely with BKind for over seven months. “They’re very courteous, they’re generous and everybody’s fantastic. It’s a pleasure to be around them.”
The 64-year-old Finch works as a state highway inspector 50 to 60 hours a week. However, 30 to 40 hours a week, he devotes his time to helping those in need, whom he tenderly refers to as his “friends.”
“We make one-of-a-kind connections with our friends. All our volunteers know these individuals’ names by heart. They aren’t strangers,” Finch said. “It just falls that way; we don’t set it up. All our volunteers make friends out there. All of my friends in need are my family members.”
Finch reported that in Anne Arundel County, there are approximately 600 homeless people. That sad statistic was one reason he joined a nonprofit organization working in Baltimore City, where he was connected through a mutual member with Fred and Monica Rost, the co-founders of BKind Gives. The three began working with an organization based in Glen Burnie. Although the work they were doing with this organization was fulfilling, they had a different vision and wanted to branch out into Anne Arundel County. In March 2020, the organization was declared a 501(C)(3) organization.
For nearly two years, the nonprofit has held weekly meetings in Glen Burnie, in the parking lot of Bruster’s Ice Cream on Aquahart Road, rain or shine. In the beginning of the project, an average of 40 to 75 people showed up weekly, but currently, the organization serves approximately 175 to 200 friends every Saturday. On December 12, 2020 a row of approximately 20 foldable tables were set up with various items, and friends lined up to pick which items they would like to take. The line of 162 people stretched hundreds of feet down the parking lot, with social distancing taking place, masks worn, and a volunteer traveling down the line, providing a pump of hand sanitizer to each friend. The individuals without housing were placed at the front of the line, and others in need followed suit.
“Before I encountered BKind, I couldn’t get food and I was having trouble paying my bills and getting my medication,” said Calvin, a friend of the organization. “BKind is different because most organizations are just like, ‘Here’s a bag,’ but here you get your choice of what food you want. If you don’t want it, you leave it and you take what you want and what you’ll eat.”
The first few tables include 3-foot-high piles of gently used or new coats, hats and gloves of all sizes. Next, the food tables begin with grocery-store-like choices of breads, desserts, canned food items, fresh fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, lettuce and pineapples, all donated by local grocery stores like Giant and other food banks. At the end of the tables is a volunteer-made hot meal that the friends are allowed to take home with them.
Throughout the line on that December day, 40 volunteers offered their friendship, talked to friends about their lives, and offered prayer and hugs to one another.
Other organizations including C3 Gives, Hands and Feet Ministry, and Walking with Jesus Outreach are present either weekly or monthly and offer donations of clothing and other items. Finch and the Rosts met the volunteers of Hands and Feet Ministry from Faith Baptist Church in Glen Burnie at an encampment three years ago when both groups were handing out food. They decided to start working together and have become one team. C3 Cares, an organization based out of Chesapeake Christian Center in Pasadena, comes to the parking lot once a month and hands out bags of essentials that cater to the season. For example, in the spring, the bags include rain jackets. In the summer, bags include water bottles and, in the winter, hand warmers and blankets.
“There’s a need in the community and it warms my heart to know that it’s being met,” said Jodie Conley of C3 Cares. “Maybe not 100 percent of all their needs are being met, but at least every Saturday, they know there’s people out here who care about them.”
Volunteers of all organizations take it upon themselves to do work with friends individually, through conducting follow-ups and buying specific items that are still needed. Millersville resident Shanna Hines has worked with BKind Gives for two years and refers to herself as the “hands and feet” of the organization, as wherever she’s needed, she goes.
“I have several people that I have followed up with and continue to talk to,” Hines said. “About two years ago, there was one specific woman in Annapolis that had just got into housing. She told me about where she came from; she was widowed and then ended up homeless. After she got into housing, she wanted a recliner. Some people are able to get housing, but they can’t afford to get furnishings or anything. I searched everywhere online and was able to get one for her. You would’ve thought I gave her the Taj Mahal when I gave her that recliner. It’s the littlest things that make the biggest difference to people.”
Not only do the volunteers of BKind Gives meet the immediate needs of marginalized people, but they also create job and housing connections, getting their friends the tools to thrive. Some people don’t have forms of identification, clothes for job interviews or mailing addresses, so those needs are met as well. For long-term needs, the organization has connections throughout Anne Arundel County with apartment complexes, grocery stores and other businesses where they assist in getting their friends connected with people who can help them.
Big Willy, a man who Fred Rost met in a laundry mat four years ago, had been homeless for a total of 10 years, living in his van or sleeping outside.
“I don’t like to talk about my situation before, but I used to sleep over at a church,” Big Willy said. “I don’t know how I did it; I was scared, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Then, I met Fred and I have a place now. Fred knew some people over at an apartment complex, he helped me talk to somebody and they got me in.”
If volunteers can’t help the friends, they connect them with someone who can help.
“For example, Hope for All, located in Anne Arundel County, can help people get housing,” Fred Rost said. “We can’t do everything, but we do everything we can to help.”
Volunteers and donations are what makes this organization tick. They narrow in their focus on helping their friends rather than fundraising or asking for donations. Gracious donations have been made to the organization; specifically, a box-truck was donated to BKind Gives in October 2020 to provide storage for tables, boxes and other means of storage. In 2018, BKind had a bike drive; 133 used bikes were donated over the year and an anonymous bike shop worked on all of them for free so that their friends would have almost-new bikes. Most of the people had walking as their only mode of transportation, so they were able to get jobs with their new form of transportation and they were able to earn enough money and find a place to live. According to Finch, about 70 percent of those who were able to find jobs and subsequent housing through the bike drive are still working and still have roofs over their heads.
“No one in the organization gets any money; we don’t ask anyone for money; people come to us,” Rost said. “I am not comfortable asking people for money or for things. Every dime that comes in goes to the people. We are focused on the missions. It’s a distraction to try and fundraise instead of just supporting the mission.”
The organization sees volunteers of all ages, ranging from 5 years old to 85 years old. The organization encourages youth to get involved; many students take part in volunteering to earn merit credits for school, but Finch said they almost always return even after their volunteer requirements are met. Bkind Gives works with elementary, middle and high schools in Anne Arundel County to give young students the opportunity to give back to the community. Many of the schools organize field trips and service-learning events with BKind, where they help serve food and distribute clothing to their friends.
“Watching my kids come out here and give back warms my heart,” BKind Gives volunteer Bill Atkinson said. “My 13-year-old daughter says to me, ‘Dad, this makes me feel so good inside.’”
Not only is the organization focused on helping people, but they also consider other four-legged members of their friends’ families. BKind partners with local veterinary offices like Noah’s Ark and Small Miracles and offers free vaccines to dogs and cats for rabies and distemper, along with free grooming and washing services. However, in 2020, that was not possible due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The pandemic has caused hardship for many of the organization’s friends; many of them are service and frontline workers and were laid off during the pandemic. Finch said that they’ve seen about a 20 percent increase of friends in need during 2020. In earlier years, many local churches were able to house people for weeks at a time in auditoriums and other large buildings, but due to social distancing restrictions, they can no longer do so, leaving many people outside during cold winter nights. However, at every meeting, COVID-19 precautions are put into place; social distancing is practiced and masks and hand sanitizer are made available to all.
BKind Gives has long-term goals of expanding to the point of getting a warehouse. As of now, they are working with small storage units to store clothing and other donated items. Additionally, they want an old restaurant or another type of establishment with sitting areas, air conditioning and heating to give their friends a sheltered and safe place to rest and relax. The volunteers and friends all inspire one another to continue to work hard to make a difference in the lives of others.
“It’s not one person who inspires me, but what inspires me is actually doing the work — seeing the need, getting involved and doing everything I can to help everyone I can,” Rost said. “The things we thought we could never accomplish, we are. Just seeing the reception of the people who need a hand up, not a handout, we’re an extended family to individuals who don’t have much in terms of family. They don’t have a network of people to consider friends. If you ask any individual in line if they considered us as friends, they would say yes.”