Operation Warm Heart

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Hundreds of transients travel south each winter, and Rescue Mission officials say many end up on our streets. Three years ago volunteers with the homeless shelter took it upon themselves to make sure these visitors aren't left out in the cold during the holiday season.

When the temperatures drop below freezing transients like Smitty are thankful for whatever they're given.

"I didn't expect it. What's going on? During the winter time there's a lot of people that sleep out here in the woods that don't have blankets," says Smitty, who's living on the streets.

Operation Warm Heart gives Rescue Mission volunteers a chance to seek out those who refuse to leave the streets.

"I think everyone needs a step up in life. This is just the starting point. We give them the basics like food, shelter and the word of God to help them see a way to a better life," says Joe Whitesell, a Rescue Mission employee.

On this night, Rescue Mission volunteers only came across a handful of transients, but Whitesell says as the winter wears on they become more weary.

"Right now we'll go looking for campsites, but as the months go on guys actually see our truck and wave us down," says Whitesell.

Whitesell hopes their visibility on the streets will show Smitty and others how much the Rescue Mission cares and persuades them to get help.

"The mission does [help] out a lot. I've been down here 14 months and they've helped out tremendously," says Billy-Joe, who's homeless.

Does this convince him to go the homeless shelter?

“I'm going there tonight,” says Smitty.

And if only one man seeks shelter from the cold, these volunteers say they've done their job.

Hiland Park Elementary donated more than 200 blankets for Operation Warm Heart. Whitesell says they usually continue the program into the New Year. You can drop off any donations for Operation Warm Heart at the Rescue Mission off of 6th Street in Downtown Panama City.