SIDNEY — Brandi Motsinger, 17, is like many another busy Sidney High School senior.
She’s excited about her plans to attend Tiffin University next year to study forensic psychology. She is a member of the National Honor Society, serves as president of Key Club and of the Link Crew and mentors elementary school kids as a Big Buddy in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Here’s how she’s different from many another SHS senior: she spends as much as 15 hours per week running the nonprofit organization she founded in February, Wide Arms Security Blankets.
She collects blankets and funds for blankets to be donated to homeless shelters. The idea came from a child’s request. One night when Motsinger was volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in Dayton, a little boy who was staying there asked Motsinger for a blanket. The shelter had none to give.
“The disappointment in the child’s eyes and God’s tug on my heart founded Wide Arms Security Blankets,” she said.
The teen, daughter of Bonnie and Stockstill, of Sidney, had begun volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul because a friend had asked her to. The need for blankets set her off on her own path.
“I Googled how to start a nonprofit,” she said. “Then I spoke to a woman at the United Way and she told me about fiscal agents.”
Fiscal agents are established businesses that can serve as the legal entity for managing donations and expenses for a charity that is just starting out and not ready to operate full scale. Motsinger asked her church to consider being her fiscal agent.
“We had a big meeting,” she said. The board of the Stony Creek Church of the Brethren in Bellefontaine agreed.
“There’s a need and we’re going to fill it,” they said.
A consultant in Urbana helped Motsinger and the church craft the contract between them and in February, after two months of planning, Wide Arms Security Blankets was in business.
“A friend and I made fliers, business cards and brochures,” Motsinger said. Motsinger contacted the principals of Sidney and Riverside high schools and asked if the drive for blanket donations could start in the schools.
The friend, Jadzie Cafe, 16, daughter of Jamee and Paul Cafe, of DeGraff, collected the blankets at Riverside and took them to the church. Motsinger collected them at SHS.
“People started donating money like crazy, so I purchased blankets, too,” Motsinger said. She contacted Shine-FM, a Christian radio station in Bellefontaine, and took her drive to the airwaves. By April, she had 200 blankets to deliver to St. Vincent de Paul.
Then, she decided to widen her reach.
“I Googled homeless shelters around Ohio,” she said. She found the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati. The organization operates an emergency shelter, but it also helps people find permanent housing.
Hume Jamison, shelter operations coordinator, said that as families move into apartments or houses, the network gives them welcome baskets of household items to help them get started in their new homes.
“As winter comes on, it’s nice to provide blankets to our families,” he said. Saturday, he’ll have 400 more at his disposal. That’s the day Motsinger and her family and friends will deliver the Wide Arms Security Blankets’ next donation.
“Four hundred is more blankets than we ever have,” Jamison said. “The donation will last us through next year. This amount is unusual and I’m looking forward to it.”
When the Stony Creek Church took disaster relief supplies to West Virginia following recent floods, 80 Wide Arms blankets were taken along for distribution there.
With every blanket is a letter, written and signed by Motsinger.
“I wanted people to know they’re worthwhile no matter their financial status. Mostly I want people receiving blankets to feel loved and have hope. If we could lighten the intensity of their circumstances, that would be great,” she said.
She acknowleges that she has had a lot of support for her project.
“My whole church is behind me. The youth group helps pack blankets. My two closest friends have helped a great deal, as well. My parents are a huge help,” she noted.
The venture has been so successful that now homeless shelters are contacting her. She selects ones that are close enough to make deliveries easily. But she has grander plans.
“The church sponsors a church in Haiti. That’s a place I want to get blankets to sometime. My greatest aspiration is for Wide Arms Security Blankets to go worldwide,” she said.
For now, Wide Arms has set modified trash barrels in the Stony Creek Church, in the Sidney First United Methodist Church, in Hair Expressions in Sidney, and in the Shine-FM radio station People can leave new, handmade or gently used blankets in the barrels. She had an informational booth at Rock the Lake at Indian Lake, where people were able to make donations.
Donations of cash by check can be sent to the church. Checks should be made payable to Stony Creek Church of the Brethren with “Wide Arms Security Blankets” in the memo line. They can be mailed to the church at 3570 County Road 31 S., Bellefontaine, OH 43311.
For information, call 541-0738.
The Wide Arms founder is suprised at how fast her idea took off and that in less than a year, she’s been able to provide more than 600 blankets.
“Wide Arms Security Blankets is a faith-based organization. This means every blanket sent out will be sent with prayer,” Motsinger said. “It’s well within individual possibility to make the world better.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.