Basketball fans gather to help homeless

NORCROSS -- Inside the Medlock Commons Self Storage facility on Saturday morning, the squeaking and tearing of packaging tape, rustle of boxes and murmur of volunteers moved about in record fashion.

In the three months since the organization Lift Up Atlanta was formed to help homeless people, the gathering on the first Saturday of the month saw its largest turnout. Thanks to a partnership with the Atlanta Dream and volunteers from the University of Louisville, who traveled to the area for the Final Four at the Georgia Dome, the turnout was quadruple the number organizers see in a typical month.

The group sorted and packaged clothes, meals, bottled water and hygiene products that will be distributed by Lift Up Atlanta to homeless families in Atlanta. Medlock Commons Self Storage donated storage space to the organization, Lift Up Atlanta executive director Rosalind Garner said. Another group, Hands On Atlanta, which provides volunteers, also participated in the event.

"It's amazing that so many people would come out to help," volunteer Kathe Hinds said. "I just think it's a worthy opportunity to, just give a hand. There's a lot of food, there's a lot of clothes that people give, and we just need to get people organized to help distribute."

Garner said the organization typically gives "blessing bags" to about 200 homeless people a month, but because about 200 volunteers attended the event, instead of the typical 50 or 60, more people would be reached.

"It's going to be a blessing to a lot more people," Garner said.

The idea to bring basketball fans to help came from people at the University of Louisville, which is the alma mater of Dream player Angel McCoughtry. And fans from the other Final Four schools also attended the event.

Garner said Panera Bread donates leftover breads and pastries that are distributed to the homeless at local shelters and extended stay facilities. Garner said they previously partnered with Meals on Wheels but, because of the volume of work, became an independent organization in February, "because I knew this was a needed service."

Hinds said her daughter introduced her to the monthly event after she originally worked with another volunteer organization that picked up food from Panera Bread, after it would otherwise be thrown away.

"If you need this and can take this, take it," Hinds said. "If you need four loaves, take it. It's not, 'OK, I only get one bottle of water, and one of this, and one of this.' If we can distribute however much you need, and have it, you can have it."

Word of mouth and the Internet have helped the young organization grow and become more organized, Hinds said. Based on needs, volunteers discuss who may bring 10 pounds of hamburger, or five loaves of bread, for example, and distribute accordingly, she said.

Hinds said her daughter, who is in school and not working, does it to give back and when needs are communicated, "you'd be surprised where it comes from."

"Now people are telling their friends, 'Saturday morning, come out and help, it's not for long,'" Hinds said. "You go downtown and deliver the food, and you're done. And you feel so good inside. What else am I going to do on a Saturday morning, house-clean? I can do that later."

For working parents who don't receive food stamps, a bag of bagels or a loaf of bread goes a long way, Hinds said, because kids are "hungry all the time. You could have just fed them, and they'll tell you they're hungry."

And Hinds said if someone donates peanut butter and jelly, and it's put with bread from Panera, "somebody's got lunch."