Holzer, a volunteer with Mr. Bobís Under the Bridge
Ministry, goes into action when the trailer pulls into
Cathedral Square Park in Milwaukee.
woman sits on the edge of the trailer, trying on a pair of used tennis
shoes. She beams as she laces the left shoe and then the right. She
tests the white shoes out against the gravel, under a bridge, warming
under the early morning September sun.
are. Got íem," she proclaims.
Her search is
complete. She found a sturdy, comfortable pair of tennis shoes. A free
pair. A clean, dry pair. One that can withstand the long treks back
and forth from her homeless dwelling under a bridge in the depths of
the city to a hospital for chemotherapy treatment twice a week for
colon cancer. She has nothing to her name, but now, for today at
least, she has everything she needs.
She is one of
dozens of homeless in Milwaukee who seek out the Mr. Bobís Under The
Bridge trailer every Sunday morning. The trailer is towed by Bob
Burmeister, a Cedarburg businessman, who has made it his mission to
help the homeless. When the trailer arrives at Cathedral Sqare Park in
Milwaukee, he and his right-hand man, Harvey Holzer, are met by about
two dozen homeless people. The pair quickly jumps into action, doling
out clothes, toiletry items, snacks and water from the back of the
"All I got
left is size 34," Burmeister pronounces to the crowd as he held
up a package of new menís briefs. "Going once, going twice,
held the last pair of stark white underwear tightly in his hand. He
lifted the size 34 briefs up as he folded a side over. "You just
sew them up with a needle and thread," he says as he stashes the
pair in a plastic bag. "I need these. This is a need. This is not
a want, itís a need. When you need something, you find a way. You
redesign it and re-engineer it to the best of your ability. This is an
Lemon had been
homeless for about two weeks. "Apparently, God is in them,"
Lemon says of Burmeister and Holzer. "Their heart is in the right
condition." Lemon explains that the homeless have an unmentioned
code, in which they look out for each other. "Everybody pitches
in and tries to help each other," he says. "People have
situations and circumstances that are beyond their control, believe it
Burmeister, Holzer and a handful of volunteers typically go to some of
the cityís hundreds of bridges in search of the homeless, traversing
into dirty and dark concrete crevasses underneath roadways. They greet
the homeless and hand out items from the back of the trailer. When
they find someone, they simply ask what they need, never questioning
why they are there, under a bridge, homeless.
Godís work," says Harold Sloan, a homeless man. "Itís
not about Bob, itís about what he does for the homeless. He is here
through winter and inclement weather. He is also enlightening people.
Itís not a disease, itís just bad choices that some of us have
Holzer know something of the struggles of those they help. "Both
Harvey and I have an addiction," Burmeister says. "Mine was
to drugs and alcohol, and his was to alcohol." Burmeister has
been in recovery for 14 years; Holzer for about three. "Harvey
asked me to be his sponsor and I agreed. That is why I have to whack
him upside the head all of the time," Burmeister jokes.
"That is how me and Harvey click, because we both have an
addictive personality, and Mr. Bobís is addicting."
Under The Bridge is an outreach ministry of Advent Lutheran Church in
Cedarburg, which began in the fall of 2009. "Our church is like a
launching pad for it, but there is no committee and there is no
overhead," says the Rev. Janis Kinens, pastor of Advent Lutheran
Church. "From my perspective, itís an incredible blessing. He
is setting an incredibly wonderful example in showing that you can be
a full-time business owner, you can have a family life and a church
life, and you can also help people that society, by and large, has
ignored, forgotten about or considered a nuisance," Kinens says.
his wife, Sue, who is also very involved in Mr. Bobís Under The
Bridge, joined the church in 2003. Because of their efforts, the
couple are rarely at Sunday service, but thatís OK with Kinens.
"ĎWhat makes you think that God is hanging out in our building?í"
Kinens says he asked the couple when they came to him for his blessing
to miss church.
Work for Mr. Bobís
Under The Bridge goes on throughout the week. A dozen or so community
and church members help organize donated clothes and supplies that
fill the trailer. "The list goes on and on and on. I wish I could
wrap my arms around everybody," Burmeister says. "There are
so many that do so much and that goes down to the people that drop
stuff off at my store every day," says Burmeister, owner of
Cedarburg Outdoor Power Equipment. "Every day of the week there
is something at my store that is donated."
businessman Bob Burmeister makes connections with the homeless
he helps as part of an outreach ministry.
Staff members at
Family Sharing of Ozaukee County help with the operation by donating
clothing that they cannot use. Holzer taps into area rummage sales for
clothing items. "I go to just about every rummage sale and hand
out (business cards) and explain what we do," Holzer says.
"Our stream of goods is pretty steady right now. Thatís going
to dry up a little bit this winter."
The effort peaks
Sunday when Holzer, Burmeister and a handful of volunteers make their
early morning pilgrimage into Milwaukee. After unloading and
distributing clothes and supplies, Burmeister and his crew arenít
rushing home. They sit on park benches, trading stories with those
they just helped. They give out hugs. They check up on those homeless
who have health problems and special requests for clothes and items.
And that resonates with those who live on the streets. "Bob knows
us by name," Sloan says. "Weíre not dogs. We are
It is Burmeisterís
faith that drives him to search for and help the homeless. "This
is my church. This is the way I go to church on Sundays," he
says. "What better way? What better way?"