When Bridgette Bowdler realized that the some of the kids she was coaching for Little League were hungry on a regular basis, she knew she had to do something about it.
“When you’re a coach, those are your kids,” she said.
Bowdler talked to a friend, Lisa Vilella of Wyandotte, founder of nonprofit Mimi’s Mission, and the two women hatched a plan for a “blessing box”— a pantry filled with easy-to-prepare, kid-friendly, nutritious food such as microwaveable macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, cereal and canned pasta meals.
“Lisa said she’d help us get it started,” said Bridgette Bowdler, founder of No Kid Without a Christmas in River Rouge.
Mimi’s Mission, with major help from donors, supplies the food for the blessing box. Donors include youngsters Tyler Dodd of Woodhaven, Nathan Crawford and Luke Carr of Brownstown Township, and Natalie Minor of Allen Park recently held special food drives to fill the food pantry for kids in River Rouge.
Vilella and Bowdler decided that the new food pantry, from which children can come and help themselves, should be inside the River Rouge Police Department.
“That way, you can start changing an entire generation and their perception of law enforcement in your city,” Vilella said.
“A lot of kids are scared of police,” Bowdler said.
The idea is that kids in need who come to get food can see that cops are there to help them. Going with that idea, Vilella also gave Mimi’s Mission business cards to River Rouge officers.
“If they find a child in need, they can call me and I will get them what the child needs and take it to the officer, so the officer can take it back to that individual child,” Vilella said.
Bowdler, daughter-in-law of River Rouge Mayor Michael Bowdler and mother of three boys of her own, got city permission for the pantry in the Police Department, and Police Chief Leonel Lopez was happy to help. Detective Lt. Dasumo Mitchell is the department’s liaison with the blessing box.
“There are children here in the city who don’t have food to eat,” Bridgette Bowdler said. “A lot of the parents aren’t at home.”
She told of a little boy who had heard about the food pantry, and came into the Police Department to get food. He was crying.
Mitchell talked to him, and learned that the boy was hungry, but was afraid to be there with police officers. Mitchell was kind to the child, had him help himself from the pantry, and told him cops were there to help. The boy left with food, and perhaps with less fear of law enforcement.
Bowdler is creating a flyer to pass out in the city’s schools, so more children learn about the food pantry. And the idea has wings.
“Ecorse wants one, too, and we told them we would help,” Bowdler said. “I know my kids need it.”
Meanwhile, she and her helpers wrapped more than 300 gifts of toys for Santa to deliver to needy kids in River Rouge homes. Coats, hats and gloves were given to 450 children in need, and 150 kids got backpacks when school started — all through Bowdler’s No Kid Without a Christmas.
Visit www.mimismission.com to donate food for the pantry or learn more.