By: Executive Director Drew Benton and Former Board Member Kel Long
From time to time, people who learn of Three-Oh-We-Go! ask about how it started. Here’s the story…
Drew’s remembrance: “Two years ago, on a few occasions when the temperature dropped below freezing, Project Live Love took to the streets of Atlanta with coats, blankets, and winter items. On one such night we arrived at a church and bumped into a gentleman who was well-dressed, by himself, and passing out hand warmers to the people on the steps.
I pulled the man aside and asked him what he was doing. He introduced himself as Kel Long and shared that he had a law office in Buckhead. He went on to share with me his personal story… “I am a duck hunter. That just means I have experienced very cold outdoor conditions. One night as I was driving through Atlanta, I saw a homeless person sleeping on a bench in 20° weather. I could see his tennis shoes sticking out from under his blankets. I just thought that if I were in his place, I would welcome someone bringing me some toe warmers.” As a result of his understanding Kel was handing out hand warmers to homeless people all on his own. He literally bought out Dick’s Sporting Goods that winter.
Kel’s remembrance: The night I met Drew on the church steps, he bluntly asked me: “Man… who are you and what are you doing out here?” And my response was, “Well… I know who I am, but… I don’t know what I’m doing.” Lucky for me, Drew is an expert on homelessness, having previously served as an associate director at SafeHouse Atlanta.
As for myself, over the years I have served on several non profit boards, including chairing a national development committee during a billion$+ campaign. While Project Live Love was a fledgling organization and Drew himself is relatively young, the mission of serving others in direct ways appealed to me. After meeting with Drew a couple of times, I sensed his strong passion for serving others and serious leadership abilities. Over the next year I saw Drew inaction – he did not disappoint.
Drew and Kel on how the program developed: We continued to meet together through the spring and summer. We began to ask the question, “what if next year we could start a program where we could take hand warmers, blankets and other winter items out every night the temp dropped below freezing.” It was through these conversations we decided to start the program Three-Oh-We-Go!
Every night from November 10th to March 30th we are on call. If the weather report is for below freezing temperatures the alarm for the GO-Night is sounded and volunteers are alerted. On GO-Nights our team of volunteers assemble together at 9:30pm at the City of Refuge. From there we divide up locations and supplies then take to the streets with hand warmers, blankets, winter items, warm beverages, and information about local shelters and programs. In our first year, we went out 33 nights, with 230 volunteers and assisted/connected with over 1,300 people sleeping on the streets.
Validation of the Three-Oh-We-Go! program came quickly. Shortly after we started in 2010, we received a significant donation of hand and foot warmers, followed by our first corporate sponsorship – Georgia Natural Gas. This year, GNG signed on again and we are also partnering with Atlanta Union Mission who is allowing us to bring people back to their shelter after closing hours.
The success of the program is only possible thru the efforts of our volunteers. Many came out with us 5 or more times last winter, like Adam, Mitchell, Lauren, Margaret, C.J., Jace, Tami, Jared and Andrew.
One final thought: Atlanta’s winter weather patterns are fairly predictable: a warming trend, then rain followed in 12 to 24 hours by a strong cold front and 3 to 5 nights of freezing temperatures. It starts to warm again and the pattern starts over. Thus, on the first night of a cold stretch, we find our homeless friends with wet feet. Our volunteers set them down, take their shoes and socks off for them, put dry socks on their feet with foot warmers and retie their shoes, as they are too cold to do it themselves. Our volunteers do not literally wash their neighbor’s feet, but it is close.