When "you've been where you didn't know whether you'd be able to buy groceries or not, it gives you a real sense of wanting to give back."
That was the motivation behind what is being called the "coats on a pole" movement that has Halifax, Nova Scotia, talking. What was meant to be an anonymous gesture went viral and the woman behind the movement was outed on social media.
That coats were left tied to lamp posts around the Canadian city with a simple note: "I am not lost! If you are stuck out in the cold, please take me to keep warm."
Tara Smith-Atkins is the Caledonia woman, who along with five friends and seven kids, left the 35 coats. One of those kids is her daughter, who she said she is teaching an "ongoing lesson" on "how fortunate she is, and how important it is for us to help those who were not so blessed."
A photo of the coats was shared by the Facebook page Halifolks, and Smith-Atkins said that post reached more than one million people. Friends of hers who saw it identified her in the comments.
There's been plenty of praise for Smith-Atkins, who said she's got mixed emotions about the attention the gesture has received. "I'm happy that it's inspiring people far and wide. I also felt a twinge of disappointment that such a small gesture grabbed such attention," she said.
But her "small gesture" wasn't small at all to one man. A note came to her from a friend, who passed along the story of "Justin." Justin had been staying in a homeless shelter and was out all day cleaning windows to earn money. He got back to the shelter late and had lost his bed. Soaking wet and freezing cold, he came across one of the coats. He thought someone had lost it, but then saw the note. "It made the difference between him waking up outside cold and sick," the note read.
Smith-Atkins said that note was the best response she got. She recalled the time when she was straight out of high school, pregnant with her daughter. She and her husband were in a terrible car accident and both unable to work. It was that difficult time in her life that inspires her to give back whenever she can.
"If not for the love and assistance from our family who knows where we'd be," she said. "Most of us are only a few paychecks and a bad decision away from the streets."