Digital fundraising helps surpass goal for Mik’s Hopeful Bags

MILFORD — Michelle Cotton’s goal is to bring hope to the homeless.

The Milford resident has spent the past several months collecting items to fill what she calls Mik’s Hopeful Bags. These donation bags are filled with necessities to help the homeless population, from personal care items such as shampoo to clothing like gloves and hand warmers.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but something else was always coming up,” said Cotton.

Cotton and her family are not new to fundraisers and helping others. Most recently, they had a fundraiser to benefit the Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, in which they raised $8,200.

“Now that we had traction in doing these kinds of things, we decided to do the homeless fundraiser,” she said. “I wanted to give stuff homeless could use and snacks to keep them going.”

Before getting started with the fundraiser, Cotton said she contacted one of her friends, Sarah Bromley, who does a lot of fundraisers to benefit the homeless, for some pointers.

“Socks, gloves and snacks are great, but I wanted to do ponchos, so they don’t get as wet in the rain,” said Cotton. “I had suggested blankets, but Sara said, ‘Blankets get wet. And once it gets wet, they just throw them away, and that’s it.’ So I suggested the Mylar blankets, which is what we went with.”

Besides the Alzheimer’s benefit, Cotton has several years of experience doing fundraisers. However, this is the first time she used Amazon as a way for people to donate.

“I made the Amazon list because somebody else had made that for another fundraiser, and I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “Because people don’t even have to contact you, they just buy whatever is on the list, and I have received lots of Amazon packages; half my dining room is covered in them.”

At first, Cotton said she wasn’t sure how well the Amazon list would fare, but to her surprise, people started buying the listed items, and she had to update the list fairly often.

“I just kept on adding stuff we needed, and people kept on buying it,” she said. “I don’t have to put out a lot of effort to raise funds. People are just ordering and sending it.”

Cotton said she was receiving two or three Amazon packages a day around Christmas time.

“My husband asked why I was ordering so much from Amazon, but I explained to him it was for the fundraiser,” she said jokingly.

The Amazon list has made the fundraiser much easier for Cotton, but she still receives non-Amazon packages from those who want to help with the fundraiser.

“People have dropped off like hotel sample shampoos, and one lady knitted eight hats, and she dropped them off,” she said. “But having a big part of this fundraiser be online has made it incredibly easier, and especially with COVID, it’s safer for the package to arrive at my house.”

Because of the Amazon list, Cotton surpassed her goal of 100 bags by having enough items for 200 bags.

“One of the things I put on the list was a package of 100 shampoos, and one person bought it off the list,” she said. “Not everybody can afford to buy the package, but the good thing about the Amazon list is there’s a variety of things on there.”

Cotton is working with Bromley to determine how to distribute Mik’s Hopeful Bags best, but the timeline is to distribute the hopeful bags through April. Cotton knows items like toiletries and clothing don’t last long, which is why the Amazon list is staying up until the summer months start.

“We are focusing on the winter months, and I do see myself doing this every year,” she said. “As long as people keep donating, I will keep on doing this.”