A 17-year-old high school senior was not prepared for the generosity he discovered when he began collecting coats, blankets and hats for the homeless. He soon had ballooning bags full of down parkas and woolen coats that found their way onto the backs of those living on the streets of Baltimore.
Bobby Weinstein, a senior at the Shoshana S. Cardin School in Northwest Baltimore, has vowed to keep up his efforts, and is now seeking donations of backpacks, duffel bags and carrying cases, as well as toiletries, for those who travel with all they own.
"What I saw reminded me of what I learned in school about the Great Depression," he said. "I saw people sleeping under piles of cardboard and newspapers."
He called his program Heat for the Streets, a spin-off on a no-questions-asked, grass-roots food distribution method called Eats for the Streets.
After collecting the coats from families and friends associated with his school, he needed a distribution network. He linked with another volunteer, Chris Leone, a Cockeysville child therapist who has been handing out meals and bags of toiletries for about 250 people on Thanksgiving morning for the past several years.
"We ran out by 9 a.m.," she said of that day's effort. "Bobby is a cool kid, and his effort is awesome."
Weinstein said he started small and did not know how his efforts would turn out. He began with a cardboard box he set up in a Cardin School hallway and made requests by e-mail.
"At the end of the day, things were piled up next to the box," he said. "Then the school secretary told me there was more piled in the office. I didn't even expect the box to be half full, but in one week, we had 10 garbage bags full of sweaters, coats, blankets and scarves."
Weinstein said he witnessed the homeless of downtown Baltimore last summer when he was an intern at the Admiral Fell Inn as part of his career plans to enter the hospitality industry.
"I saw people living outdoors. I was approached for money in the harbor. I thought that government should be doing something more about this. I wanted to help," he said. "I view what I'm doing as a form of hospitality."
He has resolved to continue his work after learning there was a need for backpacks, collapsible bags and carrying cases for the clothing he helped collect. He also wants soap and other basic toiletries.
He is now in the initial stages of rounding up the luggage for his next effort. "It's a new year and people might see the things they don't need around their homes. It's a way to let someone else start their year off on a better note," he said.
He is storing his newest round of donations in his family's living room in Timonium.
"This project was such a success that we are excited to make it an official, ongoing part of the school-wide community service project," said Barbie Prince, the head of the Cardin School.