Neighbors United assists dozens of families for Christmas

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published December 3, 2019

 This Christmas, Neighbors United is looking to assist over 50 families. This year has been the nonprofit’s busiest in terms of the number of families it’s looking to help.

This Christmas, Neighbors United is looking to assist over 50 families. This year has been the nonprofit’s busiest in terms of the number of families it’s looking to help.

Photo provided by Joe Warne

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Over 30 local families have received assistance this Christmas season, thanks to Neighbors United and generous donors.

The nonprofit organization, based in Macomb Township and founded and operated by Macomb Township firefighter Joe Warne, reached its goal the last week of November to help a couple dozen homeless families through the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team, or MCREST.

The goal is to aid 30 families remaining on the Neighbors United assistance list.

This year has been the nonprofit’s busiest in terms of the number of families it’s looking to help.

“Every November and December get very chaotic,” Warne said.

He said the goal of Neighbors United’s efforts this time of year is to get to as many folks by Christmas so they can receive some financial relief to help with gifts for families, pay bills or put gas in their vehicles.

Warne, who in addition to working three 24-hour shifts a week with the Fire Department, puts in another 50 hours a week with Neighbors United, along with a team of six volunteers, works on a daily basis to keep up with donations.

He said there isn’t a deadline for people to donate to Neighbors United, adding that there’s no guarantee everyone can be reached by Christmas.

Over the last month, he’s heard from those who need help and those looking to offer help.

“The ones looking for help are very grateful they can find help, whether it’s by Christmas or not,” Warne said. “This is the time of year where everybody wants to give, so it’s a nice fit.”

One individual who has been on the receiving end is Carl Schmidt, of Macomb Township.

He lost his job in August and has a family of six. He started working again in late October.

“It was completely unexpected and I went through a tough time,” Schmidt said. “I’d see Joe when we dropped our kids off at school, and he could see the stress in my eyes.”

Schmidt, 51, has known Warne since Neighbors United was founded and has children who have gone to school with Warne’s.

“It helped us with day-to-day expenses,” Schmidt said. “Putting gas in the car, getting paper towels. Those basics add up over time. It’s warming inside to see that people notice things that you may not notice.”   

Founded in 2013, Neighbors United consists of volunteers who are dedicated to helping individuals and families who are down on their luck and need extra help.

“I was very humbled and touched by what the foundation did,” Schmidt said. “Joe is a sincere and remarkable individual and always has a smile on his face.”

Initiatives set forth by Neighbors United for Christmas include 4 Quarters for Christmas, gift cards for the homeless, selling artificial Christmas trees and fundraising.

For the 4 Quarters for Christmas challenge, Neighbors United printed out Christmas trees and asked people to tape four quarters to them. So far, over 1,000 trees have been collected.

As of Nov. 25, over $1,100 had been raised from 4 Quarters for Christmas.

“We give to the families directly at Christmastime, like we always have,” Warne said. “We try to personally deliver to them, and if we can’t, we mail it. You know your money is going to the place we say it’s going.”

In addition to 4 Quarters for Christmas, the nonprofit is collecting artificial Christmas trees for the second year in a row. Last year, Neighbors United sold $900 worth and helped nine families for Christmas.

So far this season, over $400 has been sold.

Anyone looking to drop off artificial trees for Neighbors United can do so at 46839 Fox Run Drive in Macomb Township.

An online fundraiser began in late October, in which $2,200 was brought in, which will benefit families staying with MCREST in the form of gift cards.

So far this year, Neighbors United has helped over 180 families.

“It feels great knowing this is a community effort,” Warne said. “It shows you we’re doing the right thing in the community and helping people who are down on their luck.”

Unlike other organizations, Warne said Neighbors United doesn’t have specific criteria for people to receive assistance.