MONTVILLE, NJ - It all began in 1992 when Mark Landgrebe went to a seminar by Anthony Robbins, a life coach and motivational speaker. Robbins inspired Landgrebe to “give back,” and to this day, Landgrebe still is doing just that. His project, the Homeless Bus, will be recognized by the Montville Township Chamber of Commerce at their annual awards banquet on March 7 as the 2014 organization of the year.
The concept of the Homeless Bus began by bringing food to the needy in Paterson and then bringing the left overs to Manhattan. Now the Landgrebe family, father, wife, and teenage son, Mark, Anna, and Mark, Jr., go to Manhattan every Saturday night bringing food and necessities to about 200 homeless people. Anna said that in the past the homeless consisted mostly of individuals, but recently she has seen an increase in entire families coming for help.
Describing how she met her husband, Anna said, “It was love at first sight.” In 1994, Mark went on a vacation to Miami, Florida on the Fourth of July and met Anna, the love of his life, and in 1995, Anna left her family and a great job in Miami to come to New Jersey to marry Mark in a small civil ceremony at the Lincoln Park Court House with a small family dinner at Milan’s afterwards, right here in Montville. The young couple rented a condo in Lincoln Park, but when Anna knew that she was pregnant, she started to look for communities with excellent school systems. Montville was their first choice. They moved from Lincoln Park to Towaco and then to Pepper Road, which has a direct walking path to Cedar Hill Elementary School.
Mark’s roots are in Manchester, England and Upper Montclair in New Jersey, and Anna’s roots are in Miami, Florida, but now they are “100 percent Montville,” said Anna.
Anna stated, “It was no easy task feeding the homeless from our car.” The number of people seeking help kept growing and growing, and the Landgrebes knew they needed to buy something bigger. Over 10 years ago, they bought a bus, and that is how the Homeless Bus got its name. She emphasizes the fact that her husband is the head of the project, and she is his number one supporter and aide. She not only aids him in feeding the homeless, but she also helps him in his business at SolarHomeCo in Wayne. Anna said, “I am a proud wife. I am just the person behind the scene. All the credit goes to my husband. He has taught me much in life, and I am blessed to be with him.”
The family was buying food to feed the homeless from McDonald’s for years, but that became impossible. Then they were blessed to know Sam Matthews, owner of the Hibernia Diner. He volunteered to cook 150 cheeseburgers for them every Saturday. Right now the diner is being renovated, so the Red Barn on Main Street in Towaco is making about 50 to 80 turkey and cheese sandwiches to be distributed, along with baked goods, and township families are making another 120 sandwiches.
For over 20 years, not many people knew that the family was feeding the homeless every week from their own pocket, but last year because of the extreme cold and snow, Anna and Mark wanted to purchase blankets for the homeless, but the cost of providing food and blankets was above their means, and they needed a way to raise money for their cause. Their son Mark, Jr. had the idea of selling chocolate covered pretzels. The pretzels had an attached tag explaining the Homeless Bus, and from there, the project received publicity, and the good people of Montville Township and surrounding areas began to chip in money and goods.
Anna is able to get the chocolate and bags for the pretzels from Chocolate Treasures in Wayne. She tells a touching story on how she met Beth, the owner of Chocolate Treasures. Anna admits she is not a good cook, and she had no idea how to make chocolate covered pretzels. She went to Michaels to buy a kit. She came home and proceeded to make a disaster out of the chocolate. She was going to go back to Michaels on Rt. 23 when she saw this place selling chocolate. When she went into the store, she became overwhelmed and began to cry. Beth immediately wanted to comfort Anna and asked about the tears. Anna explained the story to her. Beth gave her a bag of chocolate and said, “Try it again, and come back if it works.” Needless to say, it worked, and when Anna went back to tell her it worked and to pay for the chocolate, Beth told her there was no charge. She has been helping Anna ever since.
Roberta Ginsberg from Pine Brook found out about the Homeless Bus and has become the number one publicity person for the Landgrebes. Anna said, “She has made it her job to spread the word to every corner of town. She has helped tremendously and has taken over the Homeless Bus on Facebook.”
This is Roberta’s story. “My first introduction to the Homeless Bus was when I ordered chocolate pretzels from them over the winter holidays in 2013. I was speaking with them, and I asked what they do to get donations. Anna told me that they don't ask for donations. They pretty much support what they do on their own and that they run under the radar. She said that for the last 22 years that was just how it was done. I was shocked and asked if it would be okay if I asked people on Facebook to make donations of the specific items they need. Anna thought I was crazy and said she didn't think most people would donate but to give it a try. So I posted on my page and on Montville Moms, and I had six car loads of donations come in from friends and countless strangers! They were coming out of the woodwork all wanting to help, and many were not even Montville residents. Since then, I was hooked. I have never in my life met two more selfless people than Anna and Mark Landgrebe. They are so dedicated to feeding the homeless of NYC on Saturday nights, and come hell or high water, they will do whatever it takes to make it into the city, regardless of inclement weather, regardless of whether or not the bus is working, etc. They put so much love and care into what they do. It is empowering and contagious to watch.
My husband and I have gone into NYC with them twice, and I cannot tell you how powerful an experience it was. My husband has handed out bananas, and I have served the soups, hot chocolate, etc. The people line up before the Homeless Bus even pulls into the designated spot. The men that they serve are so appreciative of everything given to them.
I help Anna with social media, public relations, and pretty much anything she throws my way. The Homeless Bus has become a passion for me, and as soon as I get home from my paying job, I work on Homeless Bus items for a couple of hours each night. I feel fortunate, as do most of us, to have clothing, a roof over my head, a loving family, electricity, food, clothing, etc. Working with the Homeless Bus keeps you grounded and makes you appreciate what you have a whole lot more.”
The Walgreens in Lincoln Park and Sports Authority Corporate also have been very helpful. When Anna went into Walgreens last April and wanted to buy all the bottled water Walgreens had, the store manager Cristy Telson wanted to know why. When Anna told her the water was for the homeless, Cristy set up boxes in the store for people to donate needed items. Sports Authority sold Anna $90 sleeping bags for $25. Anna had raised $5,000 through Facebook and GoGetFunding.com for these sleeping bags that are 70 percent waterproof. Other stores that are helping are Starbucks in Wayne and the Montville Bagel Shop on Changebridge Road.
Anna said that so many people have responded. MTHS students from the Responsible Educated Adolescents Can Help (REACH) program have packed the bus. Christina Kim and her son Daniel are Anna’s “organizing bunnies.” They come every week to organize and help load the bus. Debbie Hasbrouck schedules food pick-ups and drop-offs. The Pine Brook Fire Department recently collected over 400 pair of socks. So many organizations, including the Girl Scouts and the MTHS School of Rock have donated their time and energy. The MTHS School of Rock had a Rocksgiving concert and donated every dollar to the Homeless Bus.
The Happy Cards Project is nonprofit organization that collects inspirational cards. Anna said, “The Homeless Bus was the very first organization that benefited from this amazing project, and because of their inspiration, many schools are getting involved. They now send cards directly to us, and these cards are placed in plastic bags given to the homeless. We are also starting to receive lovely decorated hard boiled eggs. There is also a brown bag project that includes a brown bag decorated by students that is filled with toiletries and given to those in need.
Anna said anything that is collected that cannot be used by them is donated to the Montville Kiwanis Club for their food pantry. While at the Kiwanis food pantry, Anna met a man, who asked her if they needed anyone to play Santa. Anna did not hesitate and said that they did. This gentleman went to NYC with them as Santa and greeted everyone with a smile. Anna said, “It was absolutely awesome.”
When asked about her favorite memory of Montville, she described her first presentation to the students and faculty at Cedar Hill. She said that the students were mesmerized by her story, and she was overwhelmed with questions. She saw teachers crying and students with eyes wide open. Anna wanted the students to know that the story isn’t about the family but about the people they feed on the streets. Anna’s son Mark, who went to Cedar Hill, said, “I am proud of my mom and dad. They work hard for others.”
Anna speaks about the Miracle on 54th Street. One night as they were cleaning up, they heard someone in a loud voice calling for them not to leave. They saw this man on this cold and icy night coming to them without shoes. He asked them if they could help him. They went to check in the bus, and on the bottom of a discarded pile of debris, they found a pair of work boots in the exact size the man needed. Anna was proud to show a picture of this man with his boots.
She also is proud of two homeless men who are changing their lives around. One man’s name is Big Dave. Big Dave is getting off the streets after being homeless for 15 years and receiving food from the Homeless Bus for the same amount of time. He is a veteran, who recently has been able to receive benefits. Another man from Nigeria is getting back on his feet, and he is now “giving back” because of so many blessings he received from the Homeless Bus. “It is stories like these that keep us going,” stated Anna.
She also spoke about a man named Arthur, who is very ill. He is an amazing man, who has been homeless for 18 years. Rebecca Finerty, a close friend of the family, is providing Ensure on a weekly basis for Arthur because he needs to keep up his strength. Another homeless man, by choice, is Vance. Vance takes care of Arthur and is on the streets to help young adults. Anna describes him as “a homeless angel helping young adults on the street who are struggling.”
When Anna was asked about the one thing people do not know about her, she laughed and said, “I am a professional chess player.” She plays international on-line chess as a member of the American team on her iPhone. She can play over twelve games at a time on her phone. Her husband and son have no interest in chess. Anna says she has been playing the game since she was five.
The Landgrebe family shows the world how to be compassionate and what it means to sacrifice for others. Their acts of kindness are not only reaching the homeless but all those who meet them and hear their remarkable story. Mark selflessly said, “It’s not about us but about the people we help. It’s been like this since day one.”
If anyone is interested in making a donation, receiving information, or volunteering to make a run, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their website at www.homelessbus.org, or call 973-886-6844. One can also find them at www.facebook.com/homelessbusnyc.
The organization is desperately in need of a new bus. They are facing their own challenge to continue feeding the homeless. They first purchased a used bus 12 years ago, but it died as they went through the toll heading into NYC. Their current used bus of three years now is costing more money to maintain than ever before. Anna said, “We are looking for ways to continue to help the homeless, and we cannot afford to purchase a bus completely on our own. We already subsidize food and other items.” They have started a new campaign. If you would like to help the Landgrebes, there is a GoGetFunding page set up, so they can continue to bring simple food options, warm socks, and other necessities to the homeless in NYC. If you would like to help, please go to http://gogetfunding.com/project/help-us-replace-our-bus.