Gary Atteberry is tired.
The 77-year-old and his wife, Margaret, are the co-founders of a mutual aid group in Ogden called Do Good Today, and for the past several months, almost all of his free time—which he has a lot of since he’s retired—is spent gathering items and delivering goods to the unhoused and other people in need.
“Basically, we collect clothing, food, and hygiene items, and we take it to the poor,” Atteberry explains. “Originally, it was only for those who were homeless, but we’ve expanded.”
His expansion couldn’t come at a better time. Statistics from 2020 indicate that Utah has an average of more than 3,000 unhoused people on any given day, and the numbers for those experiencing poverty are much higher. And with the COVID-19 pandemic causing additional concerns for those without food and shelter security, mutual aid has become an even more important element to caring for local community members.
Outreach the Right Way
While many people express a desire to help those they consider less fortunate, they usually don’t know where to start. But for Atteberry, that part was easy. “When we started working with the homeless, we asked them what they needed,” he says. “And that’s how we ended up here.”
“Here” is at the municipal park in Ogden, where every Sunday Atteberry, Margaret, and his daughter Mindy, along with a host of volunteers, bring items the people they care for have said that they needed. In recent weeks, this has meant several truckloads along with SUVs packed to the brim with boots, coats, sleeping bags, and other cold weather items intended to help people survive the harsh Utah winter.
“All of it is free,” Atteberry emphasizes. “And all of it is from donations or second-hand stores.”
Caring for so many in need requires a lot of items, which means Atteberry is a regular at stores like Deseret Industries and Savers. Atteberry leverages his 30 percent discount on Tuesday at the latter, and all the purchases he makes comes directly from donations from volunteers, friends, and neighbors.
Partners with Purpose
Do Good Today began in July of 2021, and the name was a bit of a fluke—Atteberry’s daughter Joey came up with the name after creating a Venmo account for them. Another friend helped set up the Facebook page, and in the past several months, the page has garnered hundreds of followers.
Atteberry’s outreach has grown past Venmo donations and cash slipped into his hand (although those kinds of donations are still very much appreciated). With a larger community aware of his objectives and the needs of their neighbors, Do Good Today has begun partnering with several other groups to take care of other vulnerable populations.
This includes groups like Your Community Connection, which serves women and children escaping domestic violence; Youth’s Future, which takes care of teenagers and other young people who are part of the homeless community; Utah Harm Reduction Coalition that serves those struggling and recovering from addiction; and Catholic Community Services, which has been a long-standing provider of community aid.
In addition to clothing and warming materials for the homeless, together with Do Good Today, these groups provide additional services such as sourcing furniture for those moving off the streets and into permanent housing, as well as high-protein, portable food options.
“We’re all just trying to make a difference,” Atteberry says. “It’s quite a feeling to be able to literally help people live through this ordeal they’re experiencing.”
A Personal Touch
For Atteberry and his family, this outreach is not an abstract concept just for strangers; his daughter Mindy is currently experiencing housing insecurity, and she knows first hand how hard living without a guaranteed place to sleep can be.
“Right now, I’m living on couches,” Mindy says. “If I didn’t have my parents or other amenities from friends, I would be on the street. It’s why I’m so involved. If circumstances were different, that would be me.”
Because Mindy knows what it’s like to be a person in need, she knows how to interact with the unhoused and vulnerable populations they serve in ways that are genuine and helpful. Her conviction is clear to people who meet her, even if they’re reluctant to engage at first, which is exactly what happened with Dean.
Dean arrived at a supply drive, and Mindy saw that he was wearing only a light jacket and shoes with peeling soles just days before the first big snowstorm of the year covered northern Utah. Although he seemed distant, Mindy told him that someone cared.
“I said, ‘I understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. Know that we’re not expecting anything back from you, but please come find a coat, some boots, and a sleeping bag,’” Mindy recalls. “By the end of the outreach, he was talking and helping us clean up.”
A few weeks later, this interaction made Dean brave enough to confess that he’d almost frozen to death before the outreach, which made Mindy all the more convinced of the work she’s doing.
“It’s so important to bring people ‘into the fold,’ as I call it,” she says. “That way, they feel comfortable getting things from us.”
A Reliance on Community
There’s a common refrain from those who seek to eradicate poverty but worry about “handouts,” but when asked how he feels about the concept of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” Atteberry had a swift answer: “That’d be great—if they just had some damn boots.”
Attebery notes that self-reliance is a great principle, but there are more pressing matters to attend to first. “These people are walking out of their shoes,” he says. “The least we can do is give them something so their feet don’t freeze.”
When asked how long he thinks he’ll do this, Atteberry is both optimistic and resolved. “We’ll keep doing this until there’s no unsheltered people or I die,” he says. “And I think the second one will come first, but that’s alright.”
To support Do Good Today, donations can be made via Venmo to @Do-Good-Today.
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