Naperville Resident Serves Homeless Population Through Nonprofit ‘Wrapped in Love’

May 22, 2021
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Eight years ago, Susie Rot-Barrto struggled to find a purpose when her kids grew up and left home.

“I was questioning like, why am I here? What is my purpose at this point?,” said Rot-Barrto.

But that changed when she started Wrapped in Love— a nonprofit serving the homeless population in the Naperville area. Wrapped in Love’s mission is to connect those in need with those who want to give.

Wrapped in Love’s Mission

“It’s a much bigger message than just, I’m going to clean out my closet and drop off a bag of clothes,” said Rot-Barrto. “This is about us coming together and doing something to take care of each other. And in the world we’re living in, we’ve never needed it more.”

Rot-barrio distributes clothing and houseware donations to homeless shelters in the area such as Hesed house, Wayside Cross and Morningstar Mission. She also does street distribution in Chicago. And it’s all done in her trusty steed– Big Red. As a 2006 Mini Cooper, Big Red has seen better days. But she trusts it to take her to and from distributions, often pulling up to the homeless shelters with donation bags up to her head.

“They call it my clown car,” she says laughing. “Any of the shelters that I go to, because most months out of the year, even when it’s cold, I have to put the top down to fill it up, and then put the top back up.”

Wrapped in Love is more than just a name. It’s a way Rot-Barrto wants to make people feel. That’s why eight years ago she started the tradition of including a blanket in every distribution.

“I’m hoping that they would associate that with somebody who really cares about me, somebody knows I’m here, I’m not forgotten and that they feel wrapped in that blanket, which is, you know, a tangible way to make them feel wrapped in love,” said Rot-Barrto.

Drawing Circles, Not Lines

In 2019 there were 300 homeless people in DuPage county. The average length without housing was 64 days, something Rot-Barrto hopes to bring more awareness to.

“I love that quote by Maya Angelou that says, you know when you know better, you need to do better. And so, part of my mission with Wrapped in Love is to expand people’s minds.”

Rot-Barrto calls it drawing circles, not lines. It’s a motto she lives by and even has tattooed on her wrist. “We draw these lines and put people on opposite sides of them,” she said. “We draw circles by helping people understand how much more alike we are than how different.”

Rot-Barrto draws circles wherever she goes, sharing stories on Wrapped in Love’s Facebook page of those she’s helped, and those inspired to lend a hand. The most recent donation came from SEWA International and Hindu Swaya Sangh (HSS), Hindu faith-based nonprofits in Naperville that donated over eight boxes of clothing.

Wrapped in Love Community

“We heard about Wrapped in Love and all the good reputation and we wanted to donate to someone who is reliable,” said SEWA-Chicago coordinator Nagarajan Rajaram. “We wanted to make sure the clothes go to truly deserving people because most of the shelters are not ready to take them right now because of the pandemic.”

With many shelters shut down or operating on reduced hours, Rot-Barrto’s garage has become a donation center, flowing in and out of boxes and bags that she sorts, organizes and gets ready to distribute. She says she couldn’t do it without the Wrapped in Love Community.

“If I put a message out onto Facebook, I need whatever it is, something even very specific clothing and size, whatever it is, it’s on my doorstep, or it’s on my driveway in a very short amount of time. Because people want to help other people.”

Rot-Barrto says it’s all about making a difference in someone’s life one box and one garbage bag at a time.

Naperville News 17’s Becky Budds reports.