Advanced Nutrients CEO Michael Straumietis may be known as BigMike, but it’s his big heart which made Christmas a little bit easier this year for those in need. His charity, Holiday Heroes, carries out an outreach program twice a year in Bulgaria and The United States. They hit the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles to hand out backpacks to the homeless this past Saturday.
The organization, which was created five years ago, also dropped off tote bags to the LGBT Center in L.A., as well as two Union Rescue Mission locations.
“It’s beyond words,” says BigMike of his Holiday Heroes work. “I cannot describe to you how it makes you feel. It’s all about the heart and contributing back to society.”
This outreach saw him welcome over 70 volunteers into his multi-million-dollar mansion in the Hollywood Hills, where he set up a makeshift assembly line in the driveway. He opens his home for his Holiday Heroes charity twice a year, and BigMike was personally on hand to help to stuff toiletries, pens and pencils at this year’s Christmas charity event.
He knows better than most what it is like to be down on your luck. Despite being a successful businessman, at one point all his worldly goods could fit in a handful of black trash bags. BigMike’s experience, and desire to help those in need, led to the creation of the Holiday Heroes charity.
Recalling his time when he struggled to make ends meet, his eyes filled with tears: “I’ve been on food stamps,” he told me. “I’ve had my entire life in five black garbage bags with absolutely no furniture, with a cockroach-infested studio hell hole. I’ve been on the opposite side to all this, and it’s a reason why this is so dear to my heart.”
BigMike’s charity organization is his passion project, as well as his way of practicing corporate philanthropy. His charitable contributions and bid to help the homeless saw 1,000 families helped in Christmas 2012 when the project launched.
He was inspired to help the homeless after seeing the problems they faced: “I saw down at Skid Row, they were having a lot of challenges,” he explains. “And I believe corporations should give directly back to the community it gets its money from.”
Byron Takeuchi works with Down But Not Out, an organization which helps to feed, clothe and hand out personal hygiene products to Skid Row’s residents. “The need just can’t be met, it’s kind of ridiculous,” he asserts. “These packs are great. You could live off them for a couple of days with the snacks and hygiene. There is a huge need.”
The 2017 outreach program saw BigMike hand out 300 tote bags and 250 backpacks full of goodies and essential products to the Union Rescue Mission shelters in Sylmar and Downtown L.A. The organization was founded in 1891, and helps men, women and children, providing emergency and long-term services including food, shelter, clothing and medical and dental care.
Theresa Thomas, who has been living at the Hope Gardens Union Rescue Mission location for a year and a half, was delighted by the gifts. “It’s amazing to get these packages,” she says. “They have a big impact for us.”
Meanwhile, at the Downtown L.A. location, volunteers formed a human chain to get the 250 backpacks, each valued at $94 dollars, into the shelter. Rebecca Moeljono, who works with the mission, states, “I think they will be really happy.”
BigMike added: “The benefits are many. It goes beyond just giving and seeing those happy faces. It’s great for team building. There are so many positive outcomes. It just makes me so happy and so proud to be a part of this.”