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Detroit — A burglary may have been the best thing that ever happened to a southwest Detroit community center.

After news of the break-in at Detroiters Helping Each Other, companies and organizations donated a plethora of school supplies to the group for its annual giveaway.

The center needed every bit of it as an endless stream of parents and children visited Sunday.

In two hours, it gave out 436 backpacks filled with notebooks, pens and crayons.

“The break-in was a blessing in disguise,” said center founder Jessica Ramirez.

Among those opening their hearts was a local drug-dealer who dropped off 40 backpacks, said Ramirez.

This is the second year of the giveaway. The first year helped 119 people.

Residents began lining up at 7:45 a.m. for the 11 a.m. event. It was scheduled to end at 1 p.m. but residents continued to trickle in afterward and Ramirez wasn’t about to close her doors.

Jessica Ramos heard about it through a friend Sunday and rushed from her home.

“I ran,” she said. “I can’t afford to buy it.”

Running with her were her daughter, Jennifer, a 6th grader, and her son, Manuel, who’s in pre-kindergarten.

Ramirez, who has run the organization for two yeard, may be the patron saint of her neighborhood but still runs a tight ship.

As residents arrived, she barked at them to quickly line up along the sidewalk as she dropped a backpack at their feet and took their photo, which she will share with the groups who donated items.

Ramirez, who was once homeless, knows what it’s like to have nothing.

“We’re not some uppity community organization,” she said about her band of volunteers. “We’re just from the street.”

The center was loading up the backpacks with supplies as quickly as they were giving them out.

Inside the organization’s dark, dank storefront, which has graffiti on the wall, two volunteers jammed folders and pencils into the backpacks.

Ramirez, wearing a T-shirt that read “Be the voice of the voiceless,” was standing on the sidewalk when a car with children passed by.

“Hey, we have book bags,” she shouted at it.

But the car didn’t stop.

It was one of her few no-sales of the day.

As the residents received the free supplies, they walked past a sign in the window of the organization’s office.

It read: “House rules: Hug often. Never give up. Help each other.”

FDonnelly@detroitnews.com

313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell

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