Garrett Cooper and Adam Grossman have strikingly different personalities.
Grossman is a fast-talking, driven 34-year-old who has built a solid business in real estate and is known for his gregarious spirit.
Cooper’s demeanor is more laid back, and the 33-year-old is in the midst of switching gears in life. He is pushing himself to get outside of his comfort zone by striking up conversations with strangers that he meets.
But both decided to launch grassroots campaigns this winter to help the homeless and those in need.
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Grossman rallied colleagues and friends to raise enough money so he could buy 12,000 pairs of socks.
Cooper launched a campaign called Keep Raleigh Warm, and with the assistance of businesses, friends and a downtown church, bought 500 heavy-duty blankets that he is now distributing.
They were driven by different motivations. They don’t know each other, either, though now I’ve made them aware of the other’s efforts.
No matter. In this season of reflection and making resolutions, they’ve shown that it takes just one person to make a difference.
Grossman said he knows instigating change can be daunting, but if you believe in something strong enough – your “why” – then it’s not so scary.
“If the ‘why’ is that big, you’ll push and hustle just a little bit harder,” he says.
The big idea
Cooper had never done anything like this before when he launched Keep Raleigh Warm a few months ago. But for awhile he has been mulling over how he could help others.
After more than 10 years of working as a self-employed commercial and industrial electrician, he had left the industry to do something more fulfilling. For this project, he wasn’t able to go through the process of creating an official nonprofit organization. Instead, he created a website, Facebook presence and GoFundMe page.
“I want to get things done yesterday,” said Cooper, who now works as a Web design and online marketing freelancer, but still maintains the attitude developed in his former career.
The idea of Keep Raleigh Warm is simple: give out as many blankets as possible, no strings attached and no judgment.
He talked to business owners downtown and even chatted with homeless people about where he might find the most people who could benefit.
He connected with Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Hillsborough Street, where about 15 young people regularly sleep on the church’s steps. When Cooper met the church members, discussions already were in motion there about how to help the homeless, said Morgan Siem, the church’s communications specialist.
“There is a need in Raleigh,” Siem said. “We were looking for ways to get involved. He already had a plan for what we needed to do.”
The church offered to help Cooper spread the word and store 1,360 pounds of blankets. Siem, 29, filmed Cooper in Moore Square for a video in which he earnestly asks for people to donate money to buy blankets. Cooper said the church’s assistance, and the video, helped legitimize his campaign, especially among those skeptical of a young man asking for money for an unknown entity.
Soon, Cooper had raised more than $4,000, more than his goal, which was enough to buy 480 gray, wool blankets from Northwest Woolen Mills at a bulk rate of $7.50 apiece.
Then he waited for them to arrive.
Close to home
Meanwhile, Grossman was using a more cheeky approach to film his own videos. He shouted #OperationSocks while clutching wads of socks in his hands, all while “Rocky”-esque music trumpeted in the background.
Grossman, president of Grossman Group Realty, said he typically engages in philanthropy around the holidays. He has several single mothers as clients, for example, and he buys toys for their kids.
He’s a member of Title Boxing Club in Cary, whose owner, Jim Pierce, helped found a homeless shelter in Wilmington. The gym had a goal of collecting 1,000 pairs of socks to give to Raleigh Rescue Mission; they’re the most needed, but least donated, items for homeless people, organizers said.
The mission resonated with Grossman. He doesn’t talk much about his personal connection to the drive, but growing up in Durham, Grossman was raised by his mother while his father struggled with drug addiction and homelessness. He met homeless people and those who are struggling while visiting his father in treatment centers. (He said he no longer has contact with his father). Grossman said he doesn’t share his story to earn sympathy, but he knows it could help someone.
It certainly spurred what only can be called an obsession to snatch up thousands of socks from Dollar Tree stores throughout the Triangle.
“It was just supposed to be a little idea that exploded – and will make a major difference in someone’s life,” said Ryan McGee, Title Boxing’s general manager and organizer of the sock drive.
Once Grossman decided he’d buy that first 1,000 pairs – three pairs of socks for $1 – the adventure began. At first, store managers were excited to see him, offering to give him the sock order in a box from the back, but then, Grossman guesses, they started to dread his arrival.
“I’d literally go into the store and say, ‘Open another register. I’m going to be here a while,’ ” he said.
The 1,000-sock goal quickly escalated to 8,000, then 9,000, as the competitive Grossman asked his vendors to write him checks for the footwear.
McGee, glancing at boxes of socks spread throughout the gym, said Grossman’s enthusiasm motivated other members.
“It’s awesome to see,” he said. “Other members were like, ‘Gosh, more socks.’ Everybody was appreciative of what he did.”
Cooper has distributed about 100 blankets, which he and Siem called a challenging experience. They’ve questioned their own assumptions about who is or isn’t homeless and learned that homeless people aren’t always easy to find. They also have gained perspective about their mission.
“It’s not changing someone’s life,” said Cooper about giving someone a blanket. “But they might really need it.”
With warm temperatures, the church will store the remaining blankets until it gets colder. Cooper and Siem are seeking volunteers to join them in distributing them, and Cooper now hopes to create a nonprofit so the project can grow.
Grossman said he plans to establish a foundation that gives scholarships to minority students he identifies as hard-working but don’t have enough money to go to college. “People I can see myself in,” he says.
I think Siem best captures their missions. Almost everyone wants to help the less fortunate, but the sheer volume of problems in the world can be paralyzing. But all it takes is one person who’s willing to take the lead in chipping away at a fraction of those issues. Then, she says, others will follow.
“That is a huge role to fill as one person,” she said. “You just have to start somewhere. That’s what Garrett did. ‘I’m not solving the world’s problems. We can do that one thing.’ ”