Byron Center — The bins filled with new winter clothes and blankets at the entrance of Brown Elementary School are just a sampling of what third-grader Jojo Gurd has collected to help keep people warm over the winter months.
In November, the altruistic youngster — with help from her parents and brother Hudson, a second-grader — hosted a neighborhood drive and collected enough donations to fill an entire Salvation Army van. The crew helped drop them off at Dégagé Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids. Dégagé offers services including shelter to between 400-500 people experiencing homelessness daily.
“I’ve always wanted to help people who were in need,” Jojo said.
The effort began when Jojo’s mom, Dana Gurd, posted a video on Facebook of Jojo and “coworker” Hudson, talking about their plan to host a neighborhood drop-off site. The brother-and-sister team also created posters with details about collecting coats, boots, hats, gloves, sleeping bags and warm blankets.
In just one day, more than 200 people stopped by to donate.
“I’m actually impressed. I didn’t think I’d get enough to fill an entire van,” Jojo said.
Dad Travis Gurd said cars started arriving more than an hour before the drive was scheduled and continued over a four-hour period. He estimates about 2,500 items were donated.
Jojo said people reacted joyfully to receiving the items during that initial drop-off. “They were happy. One lady who lives in her car was unbelievably happy.”
The Giving Continues
Now Jojo’s school community has chipped in as well, with collection taking place at Brown Elementary during the week before winter break. Several bins were filled and ready for delivery by Friday morning, Dec. 18, and Jojo was eager to get more items into the hands of people who need them as winter days and nights turn colder.
According to the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness, in 2019, 9228 people in Kent County experienced at least one episode of homelessness, a 52% increase since 2016. A homeless encampment currently set up in Heartside Park is set to be removed within days once the city opens a temporary overflow shelter nearby.
Dad Travis Gurd said Jojo started talking last year about holding a fundraiser to help the homeless. When she has an idea to help someone, he said, she carries it through.
“She’s always been very empathetic toward people in general,” he said. “She’s had a sixth sense when people are needing something. She has always had an ability to read people and see what is needed.”
Hudson was also on board the entire time with the effort.
“We try to teach them humbleness and just to give, no matter what,” their dad said. “You don’t have to be famous, rich or belong to a religious organization. It’s just about being kind and not expecting anything in return.”
Brown Elementary Principal Jack Gitler said Jojo sets a great example for other students.
“As a third-grade student, Jojo has an incredible heart for supporting those who are less fortunate,” said Gitler. “She is an inspiration to the students at Brown Elementary, but also a shining star in the entire community. Jojo came up with this idea on her own; she spearheaded this great plan that is going to help support others in need. Her maturity to create such a great clothing drive stands out amongst all of her peers.”