By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 11, 2021
In response to a Facebook post last month suggesting that homeless individuals may be staying in area woods, one Outer Banks resident was spurred to action and created a larger movement to help the local homeless population.
“If there were people out there, it didn’t matter why they were there,” Michelle Martello told the Voice, explaining what pushed her to put out a call on social media asking for donations of backpacks, daily living provisions and supplies to hike out to those in need. “What mattered is if they needed help.”
Martello’s efforts have morphed into a group of individuals that now make up Hike for Homelessness OBX, and the group has mobilized to create “blessing bags” and to collect supplies for the homeless. The stuffed backpacks are filled with daily provisions and supplies that the homeless need most – everything from clothes, coats and blankets to backpacks, personal care products and ready-to-eat food and snacks.
The group has delivered the blessing bags and supplies to Room at the Inn, a local homeless shelter that operates at various locations during the winter months.
While Martello said the group is just getting off the ground and their mission may change over time, for now its purpose is clear. “It’s cold and there were people sleeping outside, and the goal is to get them some supplies,” she said. “We don’t want people being hungry and cold.”
Martello, who worked in social services several decades ago, said she has always been sensitive to the plight of those in need: “I was the kind of person that as a child, I cried during hungry children commercials and then couldn’t eat dinner,” she explained.
Aside from helping to keep Room at the Inn shelves stocked, the group also accepts anonymous tips and emails about a homeless individual who may be in need of supplies and will take those and blessing bags to them. Referrals, she said, are all done quietly and anonymously to protect the individual’s dignity and to avoid any legal ramifications.
Room at the Inn Executive Director Mike Jones said the organization is grateful for the donations the Hike for Homelessness group has offered. “She’s been great,” Jones said of Martello. “She is bringing in really good stuff and a lot here.”
If people wish to make donations, Martello suggested contacting Room at the Inn or her group via Facebook or email to find out what specific needs they have. If they wish to make a monetary donation, those should be made directly to Room at the Inn to fund their work. “They are serving a lot of people and they are overwhelmed this year,” Martello noted. “It’s really the main resource for the homeless right now.”
Martello said so far, the Hike for Homelessness group’s biggest donors have been members of the community who have previously been homeless themselves. They’ve also provided the best feedback regarding what the homeless population most needs.
“They have been so generous…and so brilliant with the things that they packed in the bags like foot warmers, big warm socks and personal care items, all those little creature comforts we take for granted,” she added.
As far as the future of Hike for Homelessness, Martello said that once COVID-19 restrictions ease, the group may hold events such as an organized hike to raise awareness and receive donations. They also may look to expand to help people who are on the verge of homelessness.
For more information about Room at the Inn or to donate, visit www.obxroomattheinn.org. To contact Hike for Homelessness Outer Banks, visit the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/793162354605667/ or email at email@example.com.