Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas– I had the privilege recently of speaking with Cyndi Bunch, a sister-in-the-trenches of service to the communities of unsheltered souls in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Sony Affirm Films recently released a major motion picture about her and her family’s life entitled 5,000 Blankets.
I was greatly impacted by this film on so many levels. First, from a story point of view, it’s wonderful- but the way the film also demonstrates how we can creatively share kindness and care for others deeply moved me. My personal take-away’s from 5,000 Blankets are as follows: we need to address mental health issues and homelessness with compassion and not avoid them; we need to treat others with compassion- all others; we need to come at this arrangement without self-focus- even if that focus comes out of fear or ignorance; and we’re to move toward selflessness as Jesus would have us do with one another.
The back story- even before a “big time” screenwriter (Larry Postel, Main Event and High Holiday) approached Cyndi to write about her experience- is quite moving insofar as personal experience of crisis impacting service to the world. In Cyndi’s words “You get your greatest passion, I guess, from your greatest pain; because I know I did…
Michele for Splash: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Why don’t you go ahead and give us the back story to 5,000 Blankets?
Cyndi: Sure. My husband was paranoid schizophrenic, and he got off his meds. He was a construction engineer in downtown Fort Worth, and he started disappearing which is part of a spiraling process (due to stopping taking medication). Philip (her, then a five-year-old son) and I would go looking for him and, unbeknownst to us, the homeless district was two blocks away from where he worked, so Philip and I started looking there. Philip was introduced to a world that children just don’t see… and most adults try to stay away from- or don’t go to- that area for whatever reason- fear or they just don’t want to see it, the poverty, and it’s huge- it’s really huge- so people just shy away from it. But kids just don’t see that kind of thing, and Philip did. I can remember one night, tucking him into bed one night after a long day of looking for his father, and he asked me three questions, he said: “Mommy, are you warm?” I thought that was a little odd, but I said, “yeah, baby, I’m warm.” And then he said, “well, do you think Daddy’s warm?” And, you know, we always want to comfort our children, so of course, I said, “yeah, I think Daddy’s warm,’ knowing in the back of my mind I didn’t know. But then his last question: “Mommy, what about all those other people in the tents and around the barrels- he called them barrels. Actually, what they were are their fire pits (for warmth). And I told him, “no, baby, they’re not warm,” because I wasn’t going to lie to him. He said to me, “We need to get blankets; lots and lots of blankets to warm them all up.” And at that time we were living with my mom, I was working two jobs- we were poor- we just didn’t have money to go buy blankets. But he didn’t stop. He went through his piggy bank the next day, and there was $7.20 in his piggy bank, and I had to tell him you can’t even buy half a blanket for $7.20. So, he came home from school that day, and he was very upset that there were no blankets, and he just kept on it; it was like God was talking to him to talk to me- does that make sense? It was like His little whisper that he was trying to put into my ear with every, “Mommy, mommy, mommy…” and God was telling him “Don’t give up.” So I just sat down one day and started typing; I typed a three-page letter, and I made- I think it was like- close to a thousand copies, and I was going to get these blankets, regardless. I didn’t know how I was going to do it; I just knew I was going to do it…So, I stood on the streets of downtown Dallas/Fort Worth, and this was the first of December, twenty years ago, and I would hand this letter to everybody who would walk by. I was real shy, more of an introvert, but to everybody that walked by, I just said, “Take this! Take this!” I wouldn’t talk to them, and I could see people wadding it up and putting it in the pocket or their purse. So, the next day I got a phone call from a reporter out of Dallas/Fort Worth, a big news reporter, and he said, “We’d love to have you and Philip do a segment so we can help you get these blankets.” So I talked about our story, about mental illness- I didn’t leave anything out- zero- and we went on his segment and I asked him, “Is this live,” and he said, “Yeah, it’s live,” and I said, “I don’t know; I don’t know about this…” but I’d agreed, I’d agreed to do it, and I’m glad I did because I only had to answer two questions, and then Philip took over the whole interview! At five and a half! Then the gentleman asked him: “How many blankets do you want to collect, Philip?” And then he said, “Oh, we need about 5,000” That’s where we get the 5,000 blankets from…The next day I got a call from a screenwriter, Larry Postel, who asked me if I’d mind if he wrote a screenplay. In my mind I’m thinking ‘What’s a screenplay?’ Okay… and he said, “Can we meet for coffee?” and I said “okay.” So he interviewed me for six months and got the whole story…
Michele: I’m hearing what you’re saying about God speaking through a child; what else do you think carried you through? Did you have a spiritual conversion or a similar change in your own faith life during this time?
Cyndi: Oh, most definitely! I mean, that’s all I had in my life at that time to lean on- faith. And my faith grew and grew and grew over the years, and God showed me I can do anything- regardless of the situation I’m in! We got the 5,000 blankets, and we’ve got this ministry today that’s beyond 5,000 Blankets: we run a food pantry out of our garage for people who are less fortunate in the community; we do camp sites- we have our hands in a lot of things.
Michele: With your passion to serve the unsheltered so strong, I can’t help but think, on one hand, you’d have a lot of opportunities to serve- and I can’t help but think of scripture: “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us…,” for sure, for sure, for sure. So, you’ve got this project and, on the other hand, the world is telling us “he who dies with the most toys wins,” people should “fend for themselves,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and some of us do feel in our hearts that we should be helpful and sometimes it seems just too large, as you said, we don’t know what to do as individuals.
Cyndi: Exactly! I get that question all the time: “Well how can I help?” You have that within yourself; I can’t direct you, but that’s all I can do; it’s up to you to move. And then, well, (I hear): “we’re scared,” “can we bring our children out there?” Of course you can! These (unsheltered souls) are not going to hurt you! They’re humans, just like us… There’s nothing scary about them. I’ve heard some of the most beautiful stories of these people’s lives, I mean they’re my friends. They’re no different than you and I. You know, the wind chill is 16 degrees here, and the roads are frozen, you can’t get out, and we have one warming station open in Fort Worth- one! And maybe 50 people can go there, so we have people who are literally dying on the streets…
Michele: That is so sad for me..
Cyndi: Yes, and you don’t hear about this! It’s like these people are forgotten, totally forgotten, and nobody cares. It’s like that in this film- I want everybody to watch this film right now. A lot of people are, because they’re stuck in the house, but I just keep pointing everyone to Pureflix. I’ve gotten so many calls and so emails from so many children- not adults, children. Yes, I spoke with this one little girl yesterday- Sophia- and she sent a $10 donation. I talked to her for a long time. She and her little sister (age 6) watched the film; I talked to them and they are just the sweetest little girls. I get a lot of emails from teenagers, in general saying, “Hey, I want to help. Can we start this (Philip’s Wish) in Philadelphia, can we start this in Atlanta, can we start this is Tennessee…?” and I just don’t know yet. I have to get with my attorney to see if we can use the name Philip’s Wish– because everybody wants to use the name- I have to find out. But if everybody would get out and start helping, don’t turn a blind eye because these people need it. God needs us to help these people, and God has called us all to help these people.
Michele: Yes, I believe that! And it hadn’t occurred to me that it would just be that easy to begin a movement by raising awareness and digging more deeply into reaching (houses of worship) and civic organizations to create a Compassion Movement, and we could do this!
Cyndi: The whole thing with people is that it’s fine to go to church on Sunday, I don’t have a problem with that. But get out of the church! You know what I’m saying? Just get out of the church; if you can get out of the church and help people, as Jesus did… he wasn’t in the church every Sunday, he was out there every day loving on people, taking care of people, making sure they were okay, just showing them love, compassion, heart- that’s what we need right now more than anything. The homeless population is just out of control. We can’t depend on government; we’re going to have to depend on community. And we’re going to have to work together; non-profits are going to have to work together- we can’t have this “this is my non-profit,” and “this is MY non-profit,” you know that’s not the way it works. We come together as a whole, and if we can come together as a whole we can make a difference. One person can make a ripple, but imagine what many can do.
Michele: Yes, and I think the beauty part here is that you’ve already done it and it has been successful- and that is something we can all study, learn from, and put into action… Can we do anything to help you at this point?
Cyndi: Eventually, after the film runs on PureFlix, I want to go to churches and talk about this because I think it’s very important for everybody to see (5,000 Blankets).
Michele: I think what you said about the young people being involved- this is an opportunity where young people can teach their parents…
Cyndi: Exactly! You just took the words right out of my mouth!
Michele: …As I’ve been listening to you, I can’t help but think of the references in the Gospels to when Jesus performs miracles of healing and of provision- it’s always when he’s moved by compassion. It says it very clearly: “And Jesus, moved by compassion… healed them… Jesus, moved by compassion…” so I want to applaud you for being brave enough to bring your story-
Cyndi: Oh, no, it’s not me! It’s all God, all God! It has nothing to do with me; I’m just the messenger.
Michele: How about a commendation for being strong enough to surrender to that, then? Amen? Do you have anything else we can share before we close? And thank you,again, so much for your time.
Cyndi: I just want to point everybody toward PureFlix and to watch the movie 5,000 Blankets. You can learn more about Philip’s Wish just by going to our web site. You can email me and, I promise you, I will email you back… So it’s philipswish.com You can donate online. If people prefer, they can send things, they can actually send things like sleeping bags and coats, hats, gloves, mittens and things like that. Water is huge, too. We go through over 600 bottles (and more like 1200) of water every Saturday. It gets expensive. People can always ship things.
Michele: So those who might be reading this or watching a recording of this interview and want to know more about the foundation Philip’s Wish, please go to the web site www.philipswish.com and anyone seeking more information about and how to watch the film 5,000 Blankets can go to www.5000blanketsmovie..com and watch it streaming on Pureflix. I can’t stress it enough: everybody- and I mean EVERYBODY- needs to see this film.
Cyndi: We were nominated for an award-
Michele: You’re saving the best for last!
Cyndi: Yes! I just got notification that we are nominated for Most Inspirational Streaming and TV Film by the Movie Guides Awards.
Michele: When will that be?
Cyndi: That’s on the tenth (February 10, 2023), but it won’t be televised until the 26th. So pray for a win!
Michele: I will, will!
Cyndi: Because everybody worked so hard on this film- everybody! And it came together in 17 days; it was a God thing, I’m telling you… there wasn’t a bump in the road. God had His hand all over this film- all over it!
Michele: That’s wonderful! Cyndi, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing what happens with the award nomination and to checking back in to see how things are going, God bless you. To be continued for sure!… Again, many thanks- and all thanks to God! As the film’s tag line says: We have to believe we can make a change…
Photos are courtesy of Cyndi Bunch