By nature, Detroit is not a destination. This is not to say that it cannot change in the future, but this sense of insulation has inherently made us hyper-sensitive to hasty attacks from outsiders and has pumped us up with a prickly sense of pride. We provide a safe haven for Bob Seger and Kid Rock and shun Nickelback because they don’t represent Detroit.
Rare is the high-profile person who rolls into town and is not only accepted by the community, but also leaves fans yearning for their return, as was the case with Erin Cummings. But then again, not many people have gone to the lengths that Cummings has to truly immerse themselves in the fabric of the local culture.
Though she hadn'’t spent any extended periods of time in Detroit prior to the filming of the ABC drama Detroit 1-8-7, the Huntsville, Texas native said that the acceptance of a nomadic lifestyle is an important part of becoming an actor.
"The mobility comes with the territory," said Cummings. "I moved to New Zealand for five or six months to film Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and with Pan Am they said on a Friday 'OK, you got the job, we’ll need you to move to New York for two months starting Wednesday.'"
Growing up with a father in the Air Force meant that sudden relocations were a way of life for Cummings and her family, who lived in Korea, Nebraska and Louisiana prior to settling in Texas.
After she received word that she had been cast as Dr. Abby Ward on Detroit 1-8-7, she was more concerned with a perceived lack of things to do in the metro Detroit than she was with commonplace issues such as safety. Her fears were allayed not long after she touched down in the Motor City.
"One of the first things that I did when I got to Detroit was throw out the first pitch at Comerica Park in a game against my home-state team, the Texas Rangers," said Cummings, an avid baseball fan.
"We went out after the game and I found it to be a really cool city with a great energy and a wonderful spirit that I grew to love."
Cummings channeled that very spirit to help fuel Mittens for Detroit, which began as a community initiative and one year later has blossomed into a 501(c)3 operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the North Woodward Community Foundation.
She established Mittens for Detroit after she and her cousin Kathy Moss, of Southfield, handed out candy on Halloween last year. Two young girls came to the door trick-or-treating, and one of the girls was crying. Moss noticed the girl was missing a glove, and without hesitation she invited the family inside, gave the girl a spare of gloves, put them on the little girl's hands to help her stay warm in the cold temperatures outside.
It was in that moment that Cummings realized how simple it can be to not only help provide necessities to people, but to also bring a smile to their faces.
"It doesn't have to be throwing a massive event, nor does it need to have the pomp and circumstance associated with it, it just has to be one person caring enough to make sure another person has warm hands," she said.
Although reluctant to use the "celebrity" label, she acknowledged that her role as a star in Detroit 1-8-7 had given her a platform to make appearances at metro Detroit events and lend her support to different charities. While appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the organizations, she began to feel a sense of shallowness because she wasn’t personally connected to them all.
"I think that anyone who says 'I want to start a charity, what type of charity should I start?' is going about it in the wrong way–if it's not coming from an organic place," she said. "For me, I knew that in my heart I was seeking something greater, and something was telling me that I was destined to do something in Detroit that’s far greater and will last much longer than this television show–although at the time I was really hoping the show would last a while!"
At the core of Mittens for Detroit is altruism at its purest form, boiling down to the notion of how far a dollar can go–even in these tough economic times.
"If someone can't afford to spend $25 on a coat or to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to give an entire family a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, they probably do have a dollar, and while that dollar may not necessarily buy the fancy, expensive leather-and-fur gloves, it'll probably buy something that will at least keep someone comfortable during the winter," she said.
Cummings realized that there weren't any organizations that addressed the need for gloves and mittens for Detroiters, she decided to act and developed a community initiative that was disseminated largely through word-of-mouth and social media channels. Needless to say, the support that the organization received from throughout the area exceeded her hopeful expectations.
"That was when I really saw the true spirit of Detroit, because people just jumped out of their houses to help us," she said. "We quickly found that the generosity of people was coming from all angles."
A number of sponsors have expressed their support for her charity, including the Detroit Tigers, American Coney Island, Quicken Loans and Just Baked Cupcakes. Operating as a non-profit 501(c)3 charity now gives Mittens for Detroit the leeway to accept tax-deductible donations through their website. Drop boxes are also located at all Just Baked and Emagine Theatre locations, as well as select ACO Hardware stores.
The actress has maintained a steady slate of work since the final episode of Detroit 1-8-7, starring this summer alongside Vin Diesel in Fox Digital Entertainment's original web series The Ropes and most recently in a recurring role on ABC’s Pan Am as the sultry Ginny Sadler (which reunited her with Detroit 1-8-7 director Andrew Burnstein). Looking into the not-so-distant future, she's got her fingers crossed that a few potential projects will surface during this winter's pilot season on television. Her past roles include stints on the television shows Mad Men, Nip/Tuck, Dollhouse and the aforementioned Spartacus, as well as movie roles in Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and the cult favorite Bitch Slap.
In non-acting news, the University of North Texas alumna is excited about the chance to put her journalism degree to use as a contributing blogger for the new Huffington Post Detroit, which is set to launch November 17th.
For more information on how to donate to Mittens for Detroit, including drop box locations nearest to you, visit their website.