These letters are from people from all across the country who are desperate for help….
Noni Campbell with the Letters Foundation says.
“Somebody would say I’m on disability and I need dentures and I don’t have any money could you help me with dentures.”
Some are hand written others are typed but they all come to the Letters Foundation, run by billionaire Warren Buffets older sister Doris.
She started reading letters at the request of her brother who was flooded with pleas for help. Noni Campbell is a longtime friend of Doris who is lovingly called “Do-Do” they met more than a decade ago she says,
“She had a blue sofa in her condo up in Maine and she would be sitting in one little corner of it and the entire sofa was piled with letters from people. Boxes and boxes.”
And all of those boxes came with Doris Buffet when she moved to Boston last year but she needed help reading them.
1200 people volunteered. Emily Holland was one of them she says,
“I think we don’t want to believe how easy it is to fall into a situation that’s overwhelming or that we feel like we can’t get out of.”
Volunteers are being trained over the next several weeks, but Amy Kingman with the Letters Foundation says not everyone will read letters,
“We actually created a new role which is the group a number of people here training today and those are our researchers.”
The researchers will verify people’s identities and stories. They also make sure requests fulfill the foundations mission of making one time grants to help them get back on their feet.
Unfortunately, Tevis Spezia, Letters Foundation Executive Director says business is brisk,
“Since we’ve been in boston we have given out about 260,000 in the fiscal year of 2016 in total we have given out a little over 300,000 now. So we give any sorts of grants upwards of 35,000 in a case like that that’s a handicap van and you have to spend a little bit more to provide the vehicle ..and then smaller amounts to cover some utilities to help people get back on their feet can be as small as 200 and 300.”
While the Letters Foundation operates with a strict budget, there is no budget when it comes to giving Tevis said.
“If anyone has worked closely with Doris she always speaks about how she wants her last check to bounce.”
The Buffet family is also very hands on. Now 89 Doris isn’t always in the office but she talks with staff daily. It’s part of her personal touch like how people are required to make a request, with old fashioned letters. Her granddaughter-in law Mimi Rozek says.
“She really loves the personal connection of a hand written letter –that’s how the program really started with warren was people writing and sending in physical letters.”
And Rozek says they read every letter,
“It’s very humbling and at times it’s a little bit stressful sometimes we can’t help with all of them for various reasons but the vast majority we are able to help."