Cyndi Bunch and her son Phillip never wavered.

Faith kept them going in the late ’90s while desperately searching the Fort Worth streets for Cyndi’s husband and Phillip’s father. It keeps them both going today, as their nonprofit, Phillip’s Wish, spreads resources throughout Fort Worth’s homeless community, Cyndi says.

A film depicting the family’s story will be shown in 1,200 theatres this upcoming holiday season, premiering Dec. 12, according to a press release from Sony’s Affirm Films. The film is titled “5,000 Blankets.”

The film follows Keller residents Cyndi Bunch and her son Phillip, and the Christian-based family drama takes place during the late-’90s when Bobby, Cyndi’s husband and Phillip’s father, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Overcome with mental illness, Bobby left the family and disappeared to live on the streets of downtown Fort Worth. Cyndi and Phillip lost their house, and most of their possessions, but they never gave up, Cyndi Bunch said. 

“I was keeping faith the whole time,” she said. 

Bunch wouldn’t “spoil the ending” of the film concerning Bobby’s fate, imploring people to “watch it and see.” 

But the true focus is on the movie’s themes of mental illness, homelessness and how even the small things can have a large impact, Cyndi Bunch and scriptwriter Larry Postel said. 

“I think it’s going to be very uplifting and give people, basically, hope,” Bunch said. “What I want the film to come across, and relate to people, is [that] homelessness and mental illness is what the story is about, which is not often talked about in families.”

The search led Cyndi and Phillip to a new purpose — collecting 5,000 blankets for the homeless that year, one by one. 

In collecting and distributing blankets, Cyndi and Phillip’s efforts attracted the attention of prominent DFW-area residents, including Century 21’s Mike Bowman, and former Dallas Cowboys’ players Russell Maryland and Ryan Young, and led to the creation of a new foundation called Phillip’s Wish.  

Cyndi Bunch poses with Charlie Joyner in 2013 during a Phillip’s Wish food/blanket drive in Fort Worth. Joyner, a past-fixture of Fort Worth’s homeless community, received Phillip’s Wish’s aid often. (Courtesy | Phillip’s Wish)

Cyndi and Phillip, despite their own search for their husband and father, took time to care for others – for those who had been dealing with homelessness longer than they had been. 

Dallas-based screenwriter Larry Postel saw the story on a TV news segment during a holiday season and was so moved that he wrote the screenplay, and eventually sold it to production by Sony. 

“When I first saw the story on the local news, I was really inspired by it… and was immediately touched by how Cyndi and Phillip never gave up on finding the father, how their lives changed in such a meaningful way, and how they helped so many homeless across North Texas,” said Postel. 

“But also the relationship with her son, a little boy, and the unconditional love they have,” said Postel, “so anyway, I could relate to that… at its heart, it’s an incredibly relatable and universal journey about family.” 

The film’s focus, and the hopeful impact, is in helping North Texas’ homeless population, and spreading understanding of the mental health challenges many face, Cyndi said. 

Tarrant County’s homeless population is growing, according to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. In October of 2021, there were an estimated 3,310 people experiencing homelessness, now there are an estimated 4,945 people experiencing homelessness in Tarrant County — an increase of about 1,635 people.

“A lot of people that are on the streets now,” Cyndi said, “they didn’t have a choice.” 

In her work with Phillip’s Wish, she’s learned that many are forced out of their homes because of circumstances similar to hers and Phillip’s. 

“I would say the majority… I would say almost 80 percent of homeless people are mentally ill, yes, in one way or another,” Cyndi said, “It’ll be schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD… and the rest is well, with the economy and COVID and everybody losing their jobs.”

So Cyndi, and Phillip’s Wish, work with those living on the streets, and do the same as what’s shown in ‘5,000 Blankets.’ Distributing blankets, coats, sleeping bags, toys, toiletries, and food, Phillip’s Wish hopes that, “everyone is warm, and cared for,” according to its website. Cyndi and Phillip saw what it was like to be homeless, and don’t want those on the streets to suffer any more than they did.

(Caption: Anna Camp and Carson Minniear star in ‘5000 Blankets’, a film inspired by Cyndi and Phillip Bunch,  in theaters December 12 and 13 only (Courtesy | Affirm Films)

“We just want to give them proper care,” Cyndi said.

Cyndi and Phillip’s generosity shines through the screen, Postel says, and Cyndi says the film’s performances give real credibility to the events the film depicts. Anna Camp, known for her roles in “True Blood” and “Pitch Perfect,” plays Cyndi Bunch “to-a-T,” Cyndi says. Carson Minniear, an up-and-coming child actor, plays Phillip.

“It’s really freaky how much Carson looks exactly like Phillip did when he was that age,” Cyndi emphatically said. 

The film, although set in downtown Fort Worth and its surrounding areas, was filmed in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The location choice is mainly because of tax incentives involved, but Postel says you won’t be able to tell. 

“I don’t think anybody will question where we shot,” Postel says. 

Cyndi and Phillip’s impact on the Fort Worth community was tremendous, and that much will still be evident regardless of where the film was shot, Postel added. 

Fort Worth’s homeless population is now growing rapidly. The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition predicts that, this upcoming winter, about 5,200 people will be homeless in Tarrant County, almost 1,900 more than last winter. With shelters already at capacity, more homeless will be living on the streets of Fort Worth than ever seen before. 

The seasons are changing, the weather is getting much colder, but Cyndi and Phillip are ready to once again give out more than 5,000 blankets, if necessary, providing warmth and care to those who need it most. 

Want to help Phillip’s Wish?

  • Donate a sleeping bag, blankets, or coats for the upcoming winter season
  • Volunteer to spend time on the streets and give with Phillip’s Wish
  • Make a $$$ donation to the website

Visit phillipswish.com to make a donation.

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Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.com or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...