‘5,000 Blankets’ Movie a Testament to How a Simple ‘Yes’ Can Help Thousands

Carson Minniear and Anna Camp in 5,000 Blankets

How many times have we been asked by our children to do something and we say yes, not because we intend to do anything about their request, but to diffuse their zeal and move them along to a different topic.  

Probability tells us the chances of our children revisiting what they asked us to do fades more quickly than the late afternoon sun. Within a short period of time, they usually become consumed with other pursuits like playing video games, shooting baskets in the driveway, or riding their bicycles up and down the street.

But for young Phillip Pruitt, his persistence was a little different. He continually asked his mother, Cyndi Bunch, to help him help those less fortunate to stay warm during the cold winter months. When she could have easily said no, Cyndi said yes. The end result is that their generosity and determination sparked an entire city’s movement to help the homeless.

Phillip and Cyndi are the inspiring subjects of a new movie available now from Pure Flix called 5,000 Blankets.  Starring Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) and Carson Minniear (Crater), the movie is based on Phillip and Cyndi’s remarkable true story, one that highlights their determination to change not only the life of his mentally ill father, but thousands of other homeless people struggling to survive.

I recently sat down with Cyndi to discuss the parallels between homelessness and mental illness, how the movie will inspire young people to take action to help others in their community, and Cyndi’s belief that God hand-selects people to serve His purposes.

5,000 Blankets is such an interesting title. As someone who this movie is about, what is it symbolic of?

When my son was five and a half, his dad was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He would get off his medicine and would disappear. Phillip and I would go looking for him. And two blocks away was the homeless district. So, Phillip was introduced to a world that most children don’t see or most people shy away from. I know as an adult, people shy away from that or try to stay out of that. They don’t want to go near that section of the community. Phillip got to see a lot of things that most children don’t see. 

One night after a long day of searching, I was tucking him into bed and he asked me three questions. The first question was, “Mommy, are you warm?” I thought it was a little odd. And I said, “Yeah baby, I’m warm.” And then he says, “Well, do you think my daddy’s warm?” And as a parent, you always want to comfort your child? So I told him, “Yeah, I think daddy’s warm.” And then he came to me with his third question and he said, “What about all those other people that are on the streets, that are in the tents and around those big barrels? Are they warm?” I had to tell him the truth, so I told him the truth. So, he said in his little five and a half year old voice, “Mommy, we need to get blankets, lots and lots of blankets so we can warm them all up.”

I didn’t think much about it. And the next morning he got up and brought me his piggy bank. There was $7.20 cents in it. And he says, “Mommy, you need to go buy blankets today.” And I thought to myself, that’s not going to buy much. It might buy half a blanket. So, this kid just kept on and kept on. He wanted those blankets and it was like God was whispering through him to me. So, I typed up a three page letter and made between 500 and 1,000 copies. I just knew I had to get those blankets.

So, I went downtown and started passing out this three-page letter that I had written about our lives and what we were trying to accomplish. It was all about getting blankets for my son (to give away), basically. That’s what his wish was. Phillip’s Wish was born that day with me standing out on the streets of downtown Fort Worth handing this letter out to people. I was extremely shy and didn’t want to really converse with anybody. So, I started just handing it to everybody that walked by. I just kept saying, “Take this, please take this.” And I know they thought, “Gosh, this woman’s crazy.” Some people just wadded it up and put it in their pockets and other people threw it in their purse. But I remember when I got my first phone call. It was from a young lady named Jennifer McAllister. It was the day after I had been handing out this letter about my crazy family story. And she said that she and her husband would love to help. And she was the first supporter. I remember crying when I got that phone call. She was the first one to reach out and say, “Hey, we will help you collect blankets.”

And then I got another phone call from a local TV reporter in Dallas/Fort Worth. He asked if I’d like to be on a show with Phillip. I guess I handed him one of the letters not knowing and was being nice to me. We appeared on his show and it was not pre-recorded, it was live. I didn’t do any of the talking. I just let Phillip take over. The reporter asked Phillip, “How many blankets do you want to collect?” And he says, “I think we’re going to need about 5,000.” And  that’s how the title of the movie came to be.

As we all know, homelessness is a real problem in America. You can drive through any city in this country and find tent cities of homeless people trying to survive the best way they know how. As for how they got there, the stories are endless, some unique but many times you can draw parallels between homelessness and mental illness. Could you comment on that a bit?

This hits families across the board. Everybody has some kind of issue, whether it’s PTSD, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. People don’t talk about it but it needs to be discussed as a whole community across the United States, not just in government and churches. It needs to be people who are able to pull together because we need resources. The mental health system in the United States is horrible and if you don’t have insurance, you’re not going to get help, period. That’s just the way it goes.

As you mentioned, your involvement in helping the homeless started quite simply when you saw homeless people in the Dallas area, and you wanted to help them by providing blankets. What will audiences experience in 5,000 Blankets about the difference that one person can make in the lives of their family, their friends, and a wider community for that matter?

When I was at the movie premiere for 5,000 Blankets people were so touched and so moved. They would walk up to me and say, “How can we help?” Well, you’ve just got to listen to what God’s telling you. God’s always nudging you and don’t shy away from that. You need to get out there and do what God’s called you to do. I know it’s easier said than done.

Today’s young people are growing up in a society that’s anything but what you just described. How does the movie 5,000 Blankets inspire young people to think big and to think beyond themselves?

The majority of the children I know that have seen the movie absolutely love it. And they want to move to action. I think this movie should be shown in schools across the country because it will teach children to be great teachers, believe it or not. If they see this in schools, they can go home and teach their parents. Parents are always teaching their children, but if you listen to the eyes of a child in the heart of a child, they’re going to tell you exactly how you can help. I think it’s very impactful for children to see this. I think it will move them to be more compassionate and not be so all about me. I think this movie can change their mindset.

You have been quoted as saying, “You get your passion from your greatest pain. I know I did.” If you had to do things all over again would you be ok with this never happening? Or do you believe that God chose you and your family to go through this ordeal knowing how you would respond to the challenge?

I think God chose me. Actually, he picked me. God picks his players. He has a way of doing that. He picks his players and even if you have nothing, which we had pretty much nothing at the time, God chose us. To me, it was like a miracle. It totally changed my life and my outlook on humanity all the way around. There’s a quote in the Bible that says, “You show up your neighbor as yourself.” Well, I totally believe that. Whether it be your homeless neighbor, your mentally ill neighbor, or your elderly neighbor, God picks his players and everybody has a purpose. Everybody. You just need to look inside yourself and find your purpose. Then, use that for good.

Does it seem sort of surreal to see your story developed into a movie and played out on the big screen? That God could take something that had potentially an ugly ending and turned it into something that can help others and make lives a little brighter?

God knew exactly what he was doing. He had it planned out. It was a 20 year process to get to where we are today. I encourage everybody to just be still and listen because your purpose is going to come through. Everybody was born and chosen for a specific purpose. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Phillip’s Wish. It could be anything that helps humanity. You’ve got to look inside yourself and listen to that whisper because I’m telling you God’s talking.

After audiences have seen 5,000 Blankets, as someone who the movie is based on, what would you like to see people take away from the viewing experience? What is your greatest hope for the film?

My hope is that it continues to inspire people. That people continue to watch this movie and will be inspired to get out and make a change in their community. I just want to see the movement continue to grow. You can do this in other cities across the country. It doesn’t have to necessarily have to be Phillips’ Wish. Everybody can do something. It may start off small, but it’s that ripple effect that keeps going and going and going. And the more ripples, the bigger it gets.

Learn More About Phillip’s Wish

WATCH A TRAILER FOR 5,000 Blankets:

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