Anna Maria Pizzo caught the philanthropy bug back in 2016. Now she devotes up to 15 hours a week (while still working a day job) to volunteer with countless organizations around Detroit
By Steph Opitz
Featured photography by Hayden Stinebaugh
Anna Maria Pizzo calls herself a “big cat person” — that is, until she crossed paths with Mazzy in the fall of 2017, a pitbull-shepherd mix who was picked up off the street and fostered by friends before Pizzo and her husband adopted her. “The second I met my dog and she came into our house, I absolutely loved her,” says Pizzo.
She was inspired to help other dogs like Mazzy, so she started volunteering at Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control (FDACC) in January of 2019, a city-owned shelter that takes in all types of animals. She started as a typical volunteer, heading in for a few hours to play with the dogs, and eventually became the head of the fundraising committee, running fundraisers and other activities to engage supporters. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help as many dogs as I could,” she says.
“Anna Maria is so positive,” says Robin Coker, a fellow fundraising committee member. “She is always willing to help out in any way possible, from creating a virtual fundraiser, to being at an event all day to make sure it is successful.”
Helping animals is just one of Pizzo’s many philanthropic endeavors. While she has a day job in the billing department of medical-supply company Wright and Filippis, she devotes up to 15 hours a week volunteering. She’s worked with countless organizations throughout the Detroit area, including Neighborhood Service Organization (which helps vulnerable populations), Pregnancy Aid Detroit and Friends of Foster Kids. She makes calls and writes emails asking for money, in-kind donations and sponsorships; plans events, organizes raffles and more. “It is time consuming, but at the same time, it’s so rewarding that it just doesn’t even feel like I’m working,” says Pizzo. “I mean, there’s just so many people out there that need help.”
Pizzo grew up in a “very giving and welcoming” family in Roseville, but didn’t start volunteering until recently. She caught the philanthropic bug in 2016 when her husband mentioned the many homeless people around his office in downtown Detroit. As the days got colder, she worried about their comfort and started putting together care packages — complete with clean clothes, hygiene products and fleece blankets — her husband could hand out. Then she learned a friend was doing something similar, so they teamed up. “It was like the perfect storm,” she says. They raised money together and were able to make about 150 care packages.
In 2018 she and a friend launched an online campaign, Crux Detroit, to drive donations to different charities, from those helping foster kids to animals in need. “We wanted to create something that made it easy for people to donate and volunteer,” she says, adding that Crux is on hold due to the pandemic but will resume in the future. “There’s information out there but sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start.”
Pizzo, who rallies her friends and family to get involved in her causes — her cousin, a fitness instructor, recently held an online fitness class to raise funds for FDACC — knows that the prospect of volunteering can seem overwhelming. “When I first started volunteering I felt like I didn’t even know where to go,” she says. “I knew there were so many places out there that I could do it.” She advises starting small: Find something you are passionate about, put a little bit of time in, and take it from there. “Whether or not it’s on a bigger or smaller scale,” she says, “you’re changing someone’s life, or day, or hour.”