As promised, here are a few thoughts regarding my experience with Project Winter Warm Up last weekend in Atlanta. I began writing while on the flight back home, and didn’t want to rush through and post it last night as I was still quite emotional.
So, as I sit here in my first class seat while flying home I decided that now would be the best time to share some thoughts about my experience this weekend with Project Winter Warm Up. Before this weekend, personal comfort was simply something that I took for granted. It was a certainty. A fixed and finite absolute.
As the flight attendant smiled and asked if she could bring me a pillow or blanket, I was instantly transported back to Saturday night in downtown Atlanta outside one of the city’s most densely populated homeless conclaves.
The stark contrast between the two experiences could not have been any more obvious.
Thankfully, I have never had to worry about such basic human needs as food, water, or shelter… but I have always been cognizant and eminently aware of the homeless populations throughout every city in which I have lived. Admittedly, I had often looked upon them as somehow being “defects” of society. A class of people who had all made made poor decisions and were wholly responsible for their own fates. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Let me back up a bit. Back in June I was attending an event in downtown Atlanta. One evening while returning back to my hotel, we drove under an underpass that contained at least 100 homeless people living in conditions that were indescribable. I have no words that can accurately describe the helplessness and despair that I felt while observing these human beings… people… individuals who were no different than I living in such conditions. For the next several hours I couldn’t get the haunting images out of my mind. I knew I had to do something…anything… so, in typical spur-of-the moment “Larry style”, I gathered up a half-dozen of my friends and told them that I needed their help with a special project. With no formal planning or organization, we drove down to a local fast food restaurant and I picked up 100 cheeseburgers. For the next few hours we proceeded to drive around metro Atlanta feeding every homeless person we could find.
While we were never able to find that particular underpass again, we helped out 100 other hungry souls that evening. I cannot even begin to describe the range of feelings that I experienced that evening, but, suffice it to say I was absolutely hooked. I knew that helping the homeless was no longer an afterthought for me… but was something which would become a primary focus.
Fast forward 5 months. The images of that underpass that I saw back in June continued to haunt me. Over the course of 2 nights, I had a series of dreams in which I clearly saw my next project… and voila! Project Winter Warm Up was born!
With approximately three weeks of planning and collecting coats, jackets, scarves, gloves, and other warm items, we were able to gather over 160 items for distribution. I am so incredibly thankful for the outpouring of support that we received. Without all of the generous donations and the selfless help of my incredible friends, we would not have been able to pull this off. It is absolutely true that success is a team effort, and I am blessed to have such a fantastic team. I truly appreciate each and every person who contributed – whether by donations, money, time, or even moral support. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
After bagging up each item by size, and throwing in some small extras (bottle of water, etc.) we were off. Our first stop proved to be our only, as we very quickly gave away EVERY SINGLE BAG. I had expected distribution to take a few hours, however, we were done within 45 minutes.
And, just as I had experienced back in June, I was wholly unprepared again for the onslaught of emotions that I felt this time. The were several moments that I was so moved that I couldn’t even speak… and if you know me at all, you know that’s extremely unusual. One of my most cherished memories from the evening occurred when I handed a blanket and a pair of socks to an elderly lady. She began to cry and she told me that “no one had ever cared about me before” and I told her that “I did.” Let’s just say that she wasn’t the only one crying.
By far though, the most heartbreaking and solemn moment occurred when we heard a baby’s cry and saw a young mother cowering in the shadows, seemingly with too much pride to ask for help. We quickly sprang to action and provided coats for them.
Several people asked why were doing this and when we explained “because we could” we were bestowed with heartfelt thanks, hugs, and tears of joy. Not only did this entire experience solidify my faith in humanity, but, for the brief time that we were there, I truly believe that the recipients understood that we are all united.
I believe that I can speak for all of us that took part in this amazing event when I say that this was easily one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Not only did we have a really fun evening spreading holiday joy to those in need, but I believe that we also had a rare opportunity to experience something far greater than its sum.
The thankfulness and appreciation was overwhelming, and this experience served to further galvanize my belief that helping the homeless would play an integral role in my future plans.
In fact, I’m already making plans for a much larger event in June 2016, as well as turning Project Winter Warm Up into a yearly event! Stay tuned!