News | Jan. 24, 2019

Outside 80: Milwaukee specialist feeds community spirit

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: DCMA acquisition professionals spend their 80-hour pay period contributing to the agency’s warfighter support mission. “Outside 80” is a series of articles designed to highlight how team members serve their communities outside of those 80 hours.

Brian Ghisalberti spent Christmas Eve delivering gifts throughout his neighborhood, and while his charitable actions and jovial nature might lead children and the young at heart to believe so, he is not Santa Claus.

With temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, he took to the streets to help those exposed to Wisconsin’s harsh winter find warmth during the holiday season.

“I went out and tied over 150 scarves, hats and gloves around trees and poles,” said Ghisalberti, a DCMA Milwaukee industrial specialist at its Oshkosh location. “It was so nice, and the people I ran into were so thankful.”

Much of the thanks he has earned over the last two years stems from a separate charitable effort however.

“When I moved to Oshkosh, I noticed there was a need for community and to help uplift those in need,” said Ghisalberti. “There were numerous little library boxes around town but nothing that actually helped with food insecurity.”

On July 31, 2017, he built his first Birdie’s Blessing Box – a food and necessities collection box designed to provide anonymity to those who may feel embarrassment when using a traditional food pantry. The name comes from his childhood nickname “Birdie.” Ghisalberti currently manages five boxes and has plans for more as there is a great need.

“Approximately 20 percent of Oshkosh residents live below the poverty level, and another 23 percent live below the basic cost of living level,” said Molly Smiltneek, the organizer of the Little Free Pantry, a similar donation box system in the area. “Additionally, 28 percent of Oshkosh children live below the poverty level, as compared to 18 percent state wide. We have a good system of traditional food pantries, but there are limitations of those pantries, and we feel we fill gaps in small ways … We never guarantee what food or other necessities will be in the boxes, but hopefully there will be something.”

Neither collection system can offer a guarantee because product availability is dependent on the generosity of others, but that is something Ghisalberti has found plenty of in the community.

“There really isn’t an amount of what’s collected monthly,” said Ghisalberti, who estimates he spends around 10 hours a week maintaining the boxes. “People drop items off in the boxes or even on my back porch at all times. A few friends, coworkers and members of the community have also helped me.”

The industrial specialist has found great support among his DCMA team members. It began within his local office, but as time has passed, that support has expanded outside of Wisconsin.

“My peers have been extremely supportive,” he said. “Often bringing items for me to place into the boxes. Even when I travel to other offices for business – South Bend, Indiana, for example, they have donated items to support Birdie’s Blessing Box.”

In the hopes of rallying additional community donations and generating much needed awareness, Ghisalberti shares his story with those he meets in the community and at events he attends around the city.

“The most rewarding part of this is just helping people,” he said. “To have people stop me when I am outside my home, kids draw me pictures or families putting thank you notes in the boxes, it all really shows me how much impact I am adding to the community. I’ve also had people tell me that they are surviving on the blessing boxes. I was shocked to know that people are struggling that much, and I am thankful that I am able to help.”

His plan to expand that help includes more boxes as well as a more diverse selection of items to include the cold weather items he tied around trees on Christmas Eve. He has also begun to drop off materials to shelters in the local community.

“Brian and his Birdie’s Blessings Boxes have been a driving force in the expansion of the Little Free Pantry and Blessing Box movement in our area,” said Smiltneek. “He actively is trying to replicate his box and encourage other entities to host one of their own. We share a vision of a network of these little boxes around town. They are little ways we can each show our community that we are here to support each other – one can of peaches or granola bar at a time.”

Whether it be fruit and grain, or hat and glove, Ghisalberti will continue his push to feed those who are hungry, to warm those who are freezing, and to provide hope to those who face despair.

“I would love to see Birdie’s Blessing Boxes around multiple communities,” he said. “My goal is to help as many people as I can as well as providing a positive outlook to people who need a blessing in their lives.”