For Battelle Senior Program Manager Greg Eckert, service is a way of life.
A 23-year Navy submariner (retired) and an 18-year Battelle employee, Eckert is a co-founder and CEO of Mission Warmth, an accredited nonprofit charity that has a mission to help those experiencing homelessness, especially veterans. He and his organization gather supplies and deliver them to camps around Columbus to prevent freezing and injury.
Mission Warmth started delivering warming supplies that include coats, hats, gloves, boots and sleeping bags and in early 2022 and is supported by (among others) Battelle’s Military Support Employee Resource Group, but Eckert has been involved with helping veterans for years. “When I came to Columbus and started working at Battelle, I started reaching out to charitable organizations that supported homeless people and veterans,” he said. “I always try to put myself in their position and not judge and then do what I can to make their lives a little better.”
The father of a son with special needs and a Special Olympics coach, Eckert says, “Growing up, I was taught to help people. I’ve always been drawn into the personal aspect of helping out. I’ve been involved with many charitable organizations across the country, as I moved from one duty station to another. Service and duty, it just calls me.”
Eight years ago, Eckert learned about another homeless outreach organization called Sub Zero Mission from Painesville, Ohio. Cris Damo, a friend and fellow Battelle employee, sponsored a trip to Columbus to provide warming items to those in need. “They wanted to find another place in Ohio they could help. Cris was the local guide taking them to the camps in need so they could distribute supplies. Unfortunately Cris passed away and I felt the need to carry the torch and continue their annual visit to Columbus.
“For seven years a group of us continued to guide them around the camps here in Columbus. Eventually, we wanted to provide outreach more then once a year, so Cris’ family and I decided to start an organization here in Columbus, and we called it Mission Warmth. Instead of once a year, or haphazardly, we thought we could have more of an impact organizing a local mission organization.”
So Mission Warmth began fundraising to build/modify a delivery vehicle, a used school bus, and rent a storage space for the supplies they gathered, more of which is being collected in spaces for employees to donate at various Battelle locations. They registered the charity as a 501C3. “We have been fortunate in the amount of donations we have received,” he said. “Lots of organizations, including people from Battelle, and other groups do fundraisers for us.”
Mission Warmth’s fourth foray came early this year and Eckert plans three or four more this year. A typical excursion to one of about 22 camps includes about 12 volunteers, some from Battelle. The locations are places Eckert has personally scouted. A big camp in Columbus is home to about 20 people. “Most times when we go out, it’s a surprise to the people in the camps,” he said. “Other times, we put out some fliers telling them when we’ll be there. In just the short amount of time we have been delivering warming supplies in Columbus, we are already recognized by unsheltered and homeless people as well as other organizations providing assistance to homeless, unsheltered and veterans.”
Eckert says Mission Warmth provides safety training and has protocols for volunteers when they visit camps, so they’re prepared not scared. “From experience, it’s a safe thing to do,” he said.
Eckert says the homeless problem in Columbus is bigger than people know, and of the seven percent of America’s population that are armed forces veterans, 10 percent are homeless. “It’s an awareness factor,” he said. “When I take someone new out on a mission for the first time, they are blown away by what they experience. They’re like, “Oh my God I drive by this every day and I had no idea.”
The work brings a sense of satisfaction that’s tinged with sadness. “It’s weird,” he said. “The people we serve are so appreciative of the help and supplies we provide, but then they walk off to a tent in the woods. We haven’t necessarily fixed something, but we did prevent someone from freezing to death.”
Those who would like to support Mission Warmth can visit www.mission-warmth.org, @missionwarmthohio on Facebook or @missionwarmth on Instagram.