Loving Search

May 2019 View more

Donald, known as Duck, is a former homeless man who works with Barrto in Indianapolis.

While some people go out of their way to avoid the homeless, Susie Barrto actively seeks them out. For over six years, the Naperville native has single-handedly helped thousands of people by collecting donated items and delivering them directly to those in need. Through her nonprofit Wrapped in Love, Barrto not only helps the homeless, she also raises awareness of the commonality we share.

Wrapped in Love began as a way for Barrto to do something positive during a difficult holiday season. Disappointed that her children were spending Thanksgiving with her ex-husband, Barrto went for a drive and was moved by the sight of a homeless man.

“I questioned how I could feel so sorry for myself when I had a warm house and plenty of food to come home to. I decided that I wasn’t going to spend Christmas feeling [that way]. Instead, I would collect blankets and food to help the homeless,” Barrto explains. When she posted her plans on Facebook, she was overwhelmed with donations and support. What she thought would be a one-time event quickly became an ongoing mission.

Talking about that experience now still brings Barrto to tears today. She vividly remembers the first person they found that day, and how she and other volunteers gathered around him to offer support and prayers.

“It was so emotional, that at one point, the woman leading the prayer couldn’t continue. Suddenly, the man we were helping started praying over us and what we were doing. It was the most beautiful prayer I ever heard,” she recalls. “I looked up and saw that a whole group of people gathered around us. It was incredibly powerful. At that moment I knew this was what I was supposed to do.”

Barrto, who works as a hairstylist, does this work in her spare time. “I love creating a bridge between people in need and those who want to give. People know when they drop an item off, it will be in the hands of someone who needs it that weekend,” she states. “While we can’t fix everything, we all can do something to lighten someone’s burden and let them know there are people who care.”

During this exceptionally cold winter, Barrto distributed items several times a week throughout the Chicago area. She recalls one man she met outside of Walgreens: “He was extremely grateful for the things I brought him, but he told me the thing he found most valuable was that I sat down, looked him in the eye, and treated him like a human being.” As they spoke, he pointed out how people averted their eyes as they walked by him. “He told me that’s what he looks at all day, people trying to avoid him and act like he isn’t there—a human being sitting on the sidewalk.”

Barrto with tent city resident Israel, known as Jamaica, who escaped the war in Sierra Leone

A simple hello and making eye contact can make a big difference. “Say hello with some warmth and without judgment. Ask how they are doing and listen for an answer. If you don’t want to give money, carry $5 gift cards from McDonald’s. That gives them an opportunity to get out of the elements, have a warm meal, and be treated like a human being,” she points out.

Barrto shares her distribution stories on her Wrapped in Love Facebook page. Through her posts, she hopes people will see a connection with those she meets. “The line of separation between us is so very thin. We can’t judge people’s lives based on the chapter they are in right now. Everyone has a larger story.”

Photos Courtesy Wrapped in Love