Erin Victor spent a bitter cold day in January volunteering with the Torchbearers at a soup kitchen in downtown Akron.
There were people without socks. A man was trying to warm up in a corner. And a woman had a baby tucked underneath her clothes.
“I got overwhelmed,” Victor said, recalling the images. “I had worked in that kitchen so many times but there was just something different. I went home and I couldn’t sleep.”
That restless night led to the creation of the Akron Snow Angels — a volunteer group that has an unusual way of handing out new and gently used clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, boots and other items to the homeless and needy throughout Akron.
Victor, inspired by a similar effort in Winnipeg, Canada, and a team of volunteers have hung items from trees and on the fencing along the West Market Street bridge over Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Both of the fences feature “Akron Snow Angels” written in neon duct tape.
The items, neatly tucked inside plastic storage bags, carry a tag that reads: “I am not lost! If you need this to keep warm, please take it. Be safe and know you are loved.”
Victor, 35, of Akron — and her friend Julie Farris — started the Akron Snow Angels as a one-day effort after that eventful soup kitchen visit. The response has been so great that Victor has kept it going, relying on help from volunteers and donations. (See box on how to help.)
Sunday was the fourth giveaway.
The day began at Victor’s house with her and the volunteers organizing items and putting them in their vehicles.
They then drove to various locations to hand out the items, including the West Market bridge and Haven of Rest homeless shelter. The volunteers also provided muffins and coffee for the homeless.
Victor and the other volunteers parked their cars along Park Street behind the Haven of Rest and opened their trunks, allowing a swarm of men and women to look through and take what they needed.
All the items were donated or had been purchased with money that was donated.
“It’s nice of people to be willing to take time out of their day to do stuff like this for homeless people,” said Jason Neale, 32, who lives at the Haven of Rest. “Not too many people would do that, especially if you weren’t getting anything out of it.”
He got a Carhartt jacket, socks and gloves.
Akron Snow Angels also parked outside the Redeemer North Hill United Methodist Church at East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue and Dayton Street.
Only one man showed up there Sunday, but he was grateful to get socks, gloves, a sweatshirt and two jackets, one for his son.
“I always believe in good karma,” said Joe Mullen, 50, of Cuyahoga Falls.
More than a dozen volunteers helped on Sunday, including Bo Williams of Tallmadge and his 11-year-old son, Ty.
“I thought it was a good idea for my son to participate and just to recognize that not everyone has everything he does,” Williams said.
Victor said the support has been overwhelming, ranging from donations of money and clothes to people donating their time. An artist volunteered to design a logo for the group and someone else created a website (akronsnowangels.?com).
For now, Victor, who works as an event planner and consultant with Lasting Impressions Event Rental, is storing and sorting all of the clothes and other items out of her one-car garage in Akron.
She’s looking for a larger site so she can handle more donations. She also wants to continue the effort into the spring and summer, perhaps even branching out into toiletries when the weather turns warm.
If the Akron Snow Angels effort keeps growing, Victor also would like to form an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Right now, the group is not an official nonprofit but Victor said all the donations — whether monetary or clothing — are poured into the program.
Asked how much time she’s devoting to the project, Victor responded: “I don’t even want to think about it. But I’m having a good time doing it.”
She also stressed that she wants Akron Snow Angels to be a community effort. She noted that some people have hung scarves on the fencing along the West Market bridge on their own.
“You can go out and do it without us,” Victor said. “It’s really about caring about your community. I am one person who would really never think about doing this. But everybody could do something like this. Don’t be scared to do something.”
For more details about the Akron Snow Angels or to donate, go online to akron?snowangels.com.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.