Jack Brumbaugh creates Blankets Over Pittsburgh to help the homeless



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



MAY 6, 2017


12:00 AM

From donations of sleeping bags and tents, to connections to social services, to used bicycles to help people get to medical appointments, Jack Brumbaugh has been assisting homeless people on Pittsburgh’s streets for more than 10 years.

He works on the streets, under bridges and in homeless encampments, as he says, “fill[ing] in the cracks” by providing what services he can.

Mr. Brumbaugh, 68, of Dormont, is known affectionately as “Coach,” a reference to his semi-pro football and coaching days. His father, Boyd Brumbaugh, played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Because of his work, Mr. Brumbaugh has been tapped as one of five finalists for Most Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award, selected from the 25 Jefferson Award winners for 2016. The most outstanding volunteer will be announced Thursday at an invitation-only ceremony at the Heinz History Center.

The awards program is administered locally by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with sponsorships by Highmark and BNY Mellon. The local winner will be considered for a national Jefferson Award this summer at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

This is the 40th annual Jefferson Awards program held in Pittsburgh.

The PNC Foundation will donate $1,000 on behalf of Mr. Brumbaugh to his organization, Blankets Over Pittsburgh.

Mr. Brumbaugh grew up in Munhall and played football in high school and college football, as well for a semi-pro team — “The guys who couldn't play for the Steelers,” he joked.

His path toward helping out on the streets began about 15 years ago, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the Red Door Program at St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown. His aunt initially signed him up to volunteer for the program. “I was forced into it,” he jokes.

From there, the program manager got him involved delivering blankets and sleeping bags for those sleeping outside Downtown, and his work grew from there.

Mr. Brumbaugh said his Blankets Over Pittsburgh charity is not an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, but he said he takes no salary from it.

“All the money goes right back onto the streets,” he said.

Mr. Brumbaugh was nominated for a Jefferson Award by Jim Withers, founder and medical director of Operation Safety Net, which offers health care to homeless individuals on the streets. 

Dr. Withers said he sees Mr. Brumbaugh on his street rounds in the evenings and at care coordination meetings.

“He has become a patient, loving life coach for many who have lost hope and helped them navigate to housing and a better life,” Dr. Withers wrote in his nomination. He also says Mr. Brumbaugh is out in all weather — rain or shine — despite an old knee injury.

“He really does take his coaching skills with him under the bridges. He combines compassion with life coaching. He gets people a job, and if that doesn’t work out, he goes to a Plan B, C, D,” said Dr. Withers, who himself is a past local Jefferson Award winner and who won the national award in 1993.

“The question I get all the time is ‘Why do you do this?’... I do it to practice my Catholic faith. That’s the reason,” Mr. Brumbaugh said. “My Catholic — Christian values are what drives me to help people.”

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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