From retired to inspired: 'Movers and Shakers' help Pontiac residents in need

A group of about 40 retired volunteers, known as the "Movers and Shakers," help the Catholic Community Response Team in Pontiac deliver furniture and household items to families in need each week. The nonprofit, a collaborative effort of several parishes in the Pontiac area, relies on volunteers to serve the needs of families and individuals facing income insecurity by providing a range of short-term and long-term services. (Photos by Lou Buhl | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Retired volunteers help Pontiac's Catholic Community Response Team provide free furniture, household items to families

PONTIAC — Nearly 20 years ago, the Catholic Community Response Team (CCRT) began providing emergency assistance and referrals to struggling low-income residents in the Pontiac area.

A collaborative effort of several parishes in the Paint Creek Vicariate, the nonprofit offers both immediate and long-term aid to those struggling to meet basic needs, providing food, clothing, personal hygiene items and assistance with utility payments, furniture and household items, along with other forms of assistance.

Among the many ways the Catholic Community Response Team reaches out to the community, one group of volunteers uses their time and expertise to transform the lives of those less fortunate through free furniture deliveries.

Volunteers unload furniture from a U-Haul on April 17 to deliver to the Pontiac home of a client who called the Catholic Community Response Team looking for assistance.
Volunteers unload furniture from a U-Haul on April 17 to deliver to the Pontiac home of a client who called the Catholic Community Response Team looking for assistance.

The group, cheerily known as the "Movers and Shakers," is made up largely of retirees seeking to give back to the community, said Barb Williams, director of the Catholic Community Response Team.

“Many of our volunteers were movers and shakers in their careers,” Williams said. “Now they literally move and shake because they’re all older, a little shaky, and moving furniture. So, the name fits all the way around.”

What began as two volunteers with a pick-up truck has grown to include more than 40 volunteers with two U-Haul trucks, making deliveries to four or five households each week.

“Our volunteers are really committed,” Williams said. “I think that these retirees have a really strong community, and that keeps them together working as a group and staying active.”

Volunteer coordinator Lew Elbert, who was there for the first delivery about 15 years ago, said coordinating such a large effort each week comes with its challenges, but credited the volunteers' compassion and dedication to the community with keeping the project going for so long.

In addition to the "Movers and Shaker," who help the nonprofit deliver furniture, the Catholic Community Response Team also includes the "Miracle Makers," a group of dedicated, retired women who help collect, organize and sell donated household items at rummage sales to raise money to help the nonprofit's cause.
In addition to the "Movers and Shaker," who help the nonprofit deliver furniture, the Catholic Community Response Team also includes the "Miracle Makers," a group of dedicated, retired women who help collect, organize and sell donated household items at rummage sales to raise money to help the nonprofit's cause.

“I don’t think there’s very many organizations around that could get 40 people in one spot every Monday morning,” Elbert said. “At this stage in my life, I just get a kick out of seeing how much we can get done in a day’s time. It takes a lot to do it and we keep expanding.”

After four months of living on her own in an unfurnished Pontiac apartment, CCRT client Shajanique Johnson said she called the office looking for assistance.

“I was looking online one day and their name popped up, so I called and everything went so smoothly,” Johnson said. “I finally am turning my house into a home, and it feels so good.”

Within 20 minutes of arriving at her apartment, several volunteers were able to unload a living room and dining room set, as well as a new mattress and bedroom furniture.

“I’m really appreciative of these guys because they literally just furnished my whole house for nothing,” Johnson added. “They’re wonderful, and they’re doing a great thing out here in Pontiac. I’ve been trying to tell as many people that I can to put the word out.”

Members of the "Movers and Shakers" pose for a photo with Shajanique Johnson, who called the nonprofit to ask for assistance. “I’m really appreciative of these guys because they literally just furnished my whole house for nothing,” Johnson said.
Members of the "Movers and Shakers" pose for a photo with Shajanique Johnson, who called the nonprofit to ask for assistance. “I’m really appreciative of these guys because they literally just furnished my whole house for nothing,” Johnson said.

During a typical year, the Movers and Shakers serve more than 200 clients with free furniture and household goods, which are given by private donors. In addition to providing furniture to those who need it most, the Catholic Community Response Team also hosts rummage sales at its furniture facility at the Silver Lake Church of Nazarene in Pontiac. Funds raised are used to purchase additional new mattresses, box springs and microwaves as well as to help offset rent, insurance and utility costs.

In addition to the "Movers and Shakers," the team also includes a group of retired women who sort, display and sell donated items during rummage sales, known as the "Miracle Makers."

With only three part-time employees, the Catholic Community Response Team relies on more than 150 volunteers to make all aspects of the nonprofit's work possible. Inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, volunteers serve as a reliable and compassionate resource for many individuals and families in need, Williams said.

“They really enjoy what they do, and it’s a way of living out their faith and giving back,” Williams said. “Even though we don’t push religion, we do try to walk in faith with everyone we meet and treat them with dignity and respect.”

Catholic Community Response Team director Barbara Williams stands with some of the donated household items available to help clients in need.
Catholic Community Response Team director Barbara Williams stands with some of the donated household items available to help clients in need.

Clients aren't just those who are chronically struggling, but include those who face financial difficulties and crises such as evictions, job loss or homelessness, Williams added.

“We know people who are entrenched in poverty are struggling right from the start, but people who aren’t raised in poverty and haven’t experienced it can also find themselves in that same position,” Williams said. “It really can happen to anybody.”

Catholic Community Response Team

To volunteer your time, talents or treasure to the efforts of the Catholic Community Response Team, call (248) 499-9621 or visit the organization's website or Facebook page.



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