Fired Michigan Coach Heats Things For Local Salvation

March 15, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

When former University of Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, armed with his full wardrobe of Michigan garb, punched in a Salvation Army location into his GPS he couldn’t have imagined he was answering the prayers of staff from the Salvation Army in Wayne, Mich.

“The store had really fallen on bad times,” said Maj. John Aren of the Salvation Army. “Before the generous donation from Mr. Rodriguez we were in desperate need of gently worn clothing. I had been praying that something like this would happen.”

Aren’s prayers were quickly answered. Within one week of his termination as coach, Rodriguez showed up to the back door of the Michigan Avenue store with 12 garbage bags full of blue and maize T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts and hats.

“I had never seen anything like it before,” said Aren. “It was truly a unique experience. Our store is not even the closest to the University of Michigan campus. It was a complete coincidence that his GPS took him to our store.”

Having no previous association or connection to the University of Michigan, the tiny Wayne store is located nine miles away from the Ann Arbor campus and only has one cash register.

“Excitement rippled through the whole store, when we saw the extent of the donation,” Aren said. “I looked at the contact information on the tax-exempt paperwork and realized that it had been Rich Rodriguez who had donated all the goods.”

Aren said that he jumped into his car and traveled to the address listed on the paperwork where he was received graciously by Rodriguez and his wife. “Both Rodriguez and his wife were just happy to have helped the community and grateful that the clothing would be going to people in need,” said Aren.

Ultimately counting 432 items from the coaches’ collection, Aren decided that they store would auction off the items during a one-day event called “The Coaches Closet.” Fans flocked to the Wayne store this past Jan. 18 in the hope of owning their own trinket from the Rich Rodriguez era. More than 300 people crowded the store that day, with 161 items auctioned off raising $12,900. The rest of the objects were put up for sale in the thrift store.

Rodriguez’s donation had come just in time due to the waning of essentials and clothing from The Salvation Army’s stock. The Wayne store expects somewhat of a decrease in donations following the holiday season every year, but the shortage came early this year and has severely hampered the fundraising effort.

The drought in donations is something that is widespread among family stores around the country, according to Jennifer Byrd, a spokeswoman at the Salvation Army’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va. “The Salvation Army Family Stores are having a hard time receiving donated items. Also, this is an especially slow time of year because of the inclement weather and the rush to get donated items into last year’s taxes ended on Dec. 31, 2010,” she said.

Aren hopes to help fund the Salvation Army Adult Rehab Center with sale proceeds. Located all over the country, these centers help clothe, feed and assist those people who might need assistance in the area.

“The only source of funding for the Rehab Center comes from the store,” Aren said. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we are able to keep the center afloat ourselves and do not need assistance from the national branch.”

Byrd added that donations from celebrities are not unusual. “The Salvation Army Family Stores do receive large donations from time to time, including entire contents of houses. We also receive celebrity donations, which tend to remain anonymous,” she said.

Although Aren would not speculate on the exact reasons for the Rodriguez donation he did say that, “Rodriguez has always advocated that we should do the most good for the most amount of people and I can only think his donation was an expression of that philosophy.” NPT