When the UPS driver sees a need, his group takes action

BATON ROUGE, La. – UPS Driver James Joseph’s philosophy is very much like a slogan his company once had: What can ‘Big Brown’ do for you?

In the case of Joseph-created philanthropy, the answer seems to be “whatever it takes.”

When not delivering packages, Joseph has helped deliver air conditioners and fans to people in sweltering weather, water and supplies to hurricane-affected areas, and most recently, masks and sanitizer for hands in Louisiana schools.

Called Big Brown Reaching Back, Joseph’s organization has provided weekend food in 10 Louisiana towns for poor children whose only regular hot meals come to school.

“You name it, we did it,” said Joseph.

Joseph, 55, graduated from Lycée Belaire. A 6-foot-8 forward, he played basketball at Abilene Christian University, for the Harlem Globetrotters and for professional teams overseas before returning to his hometown and going to work for UPS.

About 20 years ago, while making regular deliveries to Pointe Coupee Catholic High School, students started calling him “Big Brown” for his size and uniform color. The nickname stuck.

Nine years later, something else stuck with Joseph – the image of a stuffy elderly woman in a dilapidated house with no air conditioning in the parish of Pointe Coupee. Knowing that she wasn’t the only person suffering like this, he raised funds to donate fans and air conditioners to those in need. He called the effort “Beat the Heat,” and it was so successful that he made it an annual event involving other UPS volunteers.

As Joseph saw more and more needs, he broadened his reach. Word began to spread and others began to intervene.

John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, helped Joseph create a fund to which UPS employees in Louisiana could contribute to create a reliable source of funding. Richard Manship, president of WBRZ, told his station stories about Big Brown Reaching Back. Maggio Buick GMC and Gerry Lane Chevrolet offered him the use of their trucks, and Patrick Valluzo made his warehouse available.

“There are so many people,” says Joseph. “I get phone calls all the time, ‘I have money for you. Come and get it.’ We get this daily. People see what we do and they want to be a part of it. “

“Her heart is as big as her body,” said Joanna Wurtele, board member of the Pointe Coupee Early Childhood Coalition, to which Big Brown Reaching Back regularly donates. “He is extraordinarily kind and caring.

“He’s really a force for good. Really frankly, in this rural community I’ve been snooked by people who basically say they’re okay and they’re not. So I’m counting on James for it. guide me in the decisions I make. I know he’s not selfish. I know he’s not selfish. “

One of the motivations of Joseph’s colleagues to contribute is to have a say in how the money is used.

“People donate money to an organization and never see it in their community,” he said. “The money they give us, they see it because they are part of it. They come out and are part of it. When Natchitoches ran out of water we had 13 UPS drivers say, ‘Hey, man, this is my community. I’m going out here. We went door to door to the homes of the elderly to make sure they had water. “

To help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Joseph received donations of hand sanitizer from UPS and masks from Medshare, a non-profit organization that collects and redistributes surplus medical supplies and equipment to those who need it. need it most. Big Brown Reaching Back sent these articles to 71 public school districts in Louisiana, as well as to parish schools in Baton Rouge.

For some schools, donations are both a blessing and a surprise.

“It’s very unusual. We don’t get a lot of people donating to us,” said Kellye Washington, principal magnet teacher at Belfair Montessori Magnet School in Baton Rouge, when Joseph arrived with disinfectant. for the hands and masks for each of the 300 students of the school. .

Joseph thanks his mother, the late Lillie Joseph, for instilling a philanthropic spirit in him. His efforts never received wide notoriety, he said.

“The things I do are the things my mother didn’t complete,” Joseph said. “I’m just finishing it. That’s it. I’m just here to finish it. That’s what I’m doing, just helping.”

About Leslie Schwartz

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