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Volunteers hand out supplies to homeless amid bitter cold snap

Homeless camp in Kansas City
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 15:48:07-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — As wind chills dip into the negatives, volunteers around the Kansas City metro are encouraging homeless people to seek shelter, or at least accept supplies to stay warm.

After posting needs on social media earlier this week, Free Hot Soup KC volunteer Sheila Gresham was able to gather $700 in donations. Gresham visited homeless camps near downtown Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon to hand out gift certificates to restaurants, as well as gloves, sleeping bags and blankets.

"Losing one of them to the cold would be just as devastating as losing a family member," Gresham said of the people she helps.

LISTEN: The 41 Files Kansas City Podcast crew says KC's cold temps nothing compared to Minnesota, Chicago

Gresham also handed out small indoor propane heaters in the hopes of discouraging people from starting fires under bridges.

Kansas City Fire Department Deputy Chief Jimmy Walker told 41 Action News the ideal option is for the homeless to go to shelters. He said that incorrectly used propane heaters have caused fires and even explosions in the past.

However, if people choose to use them, the heaters must be kept at least three feet from flammable materials, Walker said.

Advocates for the homeless point out the heaters are lifesavers when shelters are full or people don't feel safe going.

"Think about it. People are in survival mode," said Jennifer McCartney, who started nonprofit KC Heroes.

Her group gathered at Ilus Davis Park Tuesday evening to pass out warm clothes and mostly pre-packaged food.

David Rockenbach, who said he is suffering from lung cancer, was extremely thankful for the help.

"These people do everything you ask them to do and just a tad bit more just to show you they care," Rockenbach said.

After handing out supplies at the park, KC Heroes spent the rest of the night delivering items to homeless camps around the city.

"If we can spend a couple hours of our time away from our warm homes, away from our tables full of food, to come out here and give them the supplies they need just to get through the night, then that's right, we're gonna do it," said McCartney.

KC Heroes often works alongside Free Hot Soup, which has been in a dispute with the KCMO Health Department over the need for permits to serve food to the homeless. A spokesman for the health department said they continue to work with representatives of FHS to bring them into compliance with city ordinance.