Christmas arrives 'Under the Bridge'
Lisbon woman, Jackson man helping the homeless

By Kelly Smith - Special to the Freeman

December 23, 2017

Bob Burmeister of Jackson and Polly Schellinger of Lisbon carry bags of gifts for the homeless in Milwaukee from Schellinger’s garage to Burmeister’s truck. Schellinger, owner of Healing Place Farm, conducted a gift donation campaign for “Mr. Bob’s Under The Bridge,” an organization to help the homeless founded by Burmeister.
Kelly Smith/Special to The Freeman

 

TOWN OF LISBON - A spontaneous outpouring of Christmas spirit in Waukesha and Washington counties is going to make the holiday season warmer and perhaps brighter for homeless people in Milwaukee.

Gifts collected by a Waukesha County woman are being distributed today at various homeless encampments by a Washington County man.

Polly Schellinger of Lisbon, owner of “The Healing Place Farm,” and Bob Burmeister of Jackson, founder of “Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge,” share the same philosophy about helping people.

“We are put on this earth to help one another and I don’t think there is enough of that going on this world,” Burmeister explained.

“It is my belief that the world is so broken that we need to help one another the best we know how,” added Schellinger.

Schellinger donates to dozens of organizations and individuals the profits she earns from her production and sale of health care-related essential oils, lotions, balms, soaps and inhalers.

When restaurateur Jennifer Bartolotta told Schellinger about how Burmeister helps the homeless, Schellinger launched a social media campaign that attracted scores of donors.

She estimated most of the donors traveled from about a 20-mile radius to deliver their gifts to the farm except for “one women who drove nearly an hour to get here.”

Schellinger obtained a list of items the homeless need to survive in the winter from Burmeister’s website and added them onto her Facebook page.

“People didn’t just donate. Some of them went shopping to buy some of the items that were on the list,” she added.
 

‘This is amazing’

Boxes and bags stuffed with hats, coats, gloves, scarves, socks, long underwear, toiletries, even home-baked cookies, were stacked into a garage on the 20-acre farm owned by Schellinger and her husband Robert, a physician and director of Carroll University’s Physician Assistants Studies.

Schellinger and Burmeister had not met before they greeted each other with a warm embrace after he arrived on the farm Wednesday in his truck, about the size of a small moving van, with a large trailer attached.

“This is amazing. I am speechless,” he proclaimed as he walked through the rows of boxes and bags.

“Mr. Bob’s Under The Bridge” is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering dignity, compassion and friendship toward the homeless founded about a decade ago by Burmeister, who is a heavy-equipment salesman.

“Mr. Bob” and dozens of volunteers gather on Saturday mornings at a Milwaukee park where they distribute necessities such as clothing and hygiene products to about 125 homeless men, women and children each week.

They also serve warm coffee and snacks to encourage a sense of community and fellowship among the homeless.

The organization is named after the Holton Street Bridge.

As a youngster growing up in the inner city, Burmeister frequently walked across the bridge under which the homeless often lived.
 

Always at risk

One of his goals is to educate people living in more fortunate and comfortable conditions about the existence and hardships faced by the homeless, whom he often refers to as “my friends.”

“To live under a bridge takes a lot of thought. It is not only how to survive the weather, it is also learning to sleep with one eye open, so you don’t get beaten up or stuff stolen,” he said.

“They are experts on survival, on how to layer clothes, on how to build a shelter, that will keep them warm in the winter,” he added.

However, the homeless are always at risk.

Burmeister told the story of how one of his friends lost seven toes from frostbite partly because of his alcoholism, and social service agencies’ failure to recognize the seriousness of his condition.

Burmeister estimates there are about 1,200 to 1,500 homeless people in Milwaukee, which he says is about typical for an urban population of about 600,000 in the United States.

About 60 percent of the homeless suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. Another 25 percent suffer from various forms of mental illness, according to Burmeister.

Schellinger said she may try to organize a monthly donation drive.

“I am so blown away that you have a place in your heart for our friends in the city,” Burmeister later told Schellinger on Facebook.