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SnowedOutAtlanta: How one woman brought a big city back to it's small town roots

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The last couple of days has been an adventure for nearly everyone living in the deep south. Tuesday's snow was fun, but the ice was a major party spoiler. For those of us who live off the beaten path down some country road, the last two days have been a great excuse to stay home, play outside and make snowpeople - and even a little snow ice cream. But for the millions of people who live in the city, simply getting home from work became a chaotic and dangerous chore.

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My husband and I were lucky enough to have a clear schedule, food, supplies, heat... and blessedly our electricity stayed on. Although we do not have television, we were able to stream live news broadcasts out of Atlanta over the internet. It became very apparent on Tuesday afternoon that the weather had certainly done a doozy on the big town up the road.

I've lived in Georgia long enough to know that this state can handle the snow, it shows up enough for everyone to have a good game plan for those days. And let's face it, us southerners can drive in mud, floods, river sand and hurricanes, we can certainly get ourselves down a snowy road. However, when the temperature fell down to nothing and the roadways did a wild and reckless freeze Tuesday afternoon, the disasters were lined up to follow.

Ice was stuck to the road, children were stuck in school houses and adults were stuck everywhere else. As the roadways turned to ice, there were multiple wrecks causing traffic to gridlock throughout the city which led to an absolute standstill. This prohibited plows or salt trucks from getting onto the roads to help the problem. Atlanta had her little frozen fingers full, and from the looks of it, she wasn’t very prepared to handle what Nature was dropping all over the place.

Last night many school kids were sleeping on gymnasium floors, and some were cuddled up in school buses that were stuck in grid locked traffic. Their parents were scattered all over the place, some stuck in their work places, some stuck in public buildings or their homes - but a great number of them were stuck on roadways, in their cars, in 12 degree weather - many for more than 14 hours. As the interstates froze in place, cars started running out of gas (and heat) and everyone was running out of patience. They all wanted to get home safe, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

It became very clear very quickly that instead of plows or sand or salt, what was going to be needed was rescue personnel. The problem was with the icy jam packed roadways, not even the authorities were going to be able to help most people who needed it.

Enter Michelle Sollicito - with her great big heart and her sweet simple plan. Like many of us listening to news broadcasts and watching social media posts, Michelle saw that a seemingly helpless situation was developing for many people and she wanted to be helpful. She immediately started a Facebook Group to connect people who needed help with people who could help.

Michelle hoped that SnowedOutAtlanta would be useful, but I imagine even she was taken aback as she watched the immediate and overwhelming response.The page was scooped up with open arms from all around the metro area. Group members were instantly on board connecting people who had immediate needs with those who could get to their location and help.

People were walking from their homes, hopping over interstate barriers, and bringing food, water, blankets and even medications to stranded motorists. Some were brought into homes and given dinner, pajamas and a warm place to sleep. Folks from all over with four wheel drive vehicles were plowing through the medians to get to people who had run out of gas and heat in their vehicles. Group members were helping to locate missing persons, reuniting children with their parents and getting sick people to hospitals. They were rescuing pregnant women, senior citizens and people in need of medications. This group even made sure to let people who were stranded with pets know who had pet-friendly homes available to them.

The group created interactive maps for stranded people to pin their locations – complete with color codes for medical and other emergency situations. Subgroups were created to help organize those needing help from those offering help. All of these things happening within just hours of the page being created.

This group not only organized and activated, it became more helpful in the first few hours of its existence than many systems that have been in place for decades. This is community. This is social welfare done right.

I’m writing this on Wednesday evening, and Atlanta’s still frozen and some people are still stranded – and SnowedOutAtlanta is still running strong, with over 54,000 members. Posts are coming in from all over alerting people to road conditions around the metro area and beyond, helping people find vacancies in nearby hotels, and sending out gratitude to the people who joined together in a big city with the heart of a small town.

Michelle Sollicito has been called a hero from group members and various media outlets. She seems to be a very humble person and doesn’t see herself that way, and has stated that she’s too shy to go on television for interviews. She said “I want to thank everybody who has been saying such nice things about me on the internet, but I’m not a superhero. I couldn’t have done this without everyone else.”

She released a short video earlier today explaining why she did what she did. You can watch it HERE.

Because of Michelle’s ingenuity and the local community stepping up to the plate, thousands of people were helped that otherwise may not have fared so well. If you take some time to scroll through SnowedOutAtlanta and its subgroups, in addition to pleas for help (which are meticulously accounted for until resolved) you will also see posts like these:

Thanks for all the help. Had mom and dad make it safe due to the care and concern of Atlanta and this group. Unity is so powerful. - Dustin Hall

SnowedOutAtlanta is the reason that my husband made it home last night. - Suze Asfour

‎As a Marine veteran, I wanted to express how impressed I am with the extraordinary heroism I've witnessed from our civilians. Compassion and grit come from all races, ages, backgrounds. - Wesley Au-Yeung

We had a Good Samaritan, Coach Joe Keller, who used his truck to transport over 100 students and staff to their homes. He does not have any children at our school and spent 6 hours making sure all of our kids were able to get home. - Lindsay Elkins

I see a woman get out of her car and give a scarf to a woman walking and then she took the jacket off of herself and handed it over as well. Wow.... Just wow.... - Kimberly Buckley

Hey folks. I'm a trucker stuck on I-285 at exit 60 (Riverdale RD). I have some food and water for anyone close to me. I'll walk up to a mile or so to help if needed. I don't have a ton but I have enough to spare to quite a few folks. If you're pregnant, have kids with you or elderly. You will be priority. Don't be afraid to ask. Times like this-we help each other. – Joe Schmitz

If anyone out there is still stranded near Cumberland Mall, exit 18 on 285.... or anywhere just around the Smyna area... my home is open. We can come get you. – Maria Curtis

Food/shelter etc available off Peachtree Industrial. Please contact us … we can’t pick you up but might be able to help find someone who can. kid/pet/family friendly. - Ashley Barbo

This page helped me direct my husband who had been in his work truck stranded for 18 hours, to safety. It was a relief to myself and my children to know he wasn't alone. I learned valuable lessons today just from reading and helping and encouraging others on this page. - Rachel Gravitt

Hundreds of people out bringing food, water, blankets, hot chocolate and giving rides if they have 4 wheel drive vehicles that are capable or even opening their home to strangers! Southern Hospitality at its best! I'd rather be stranded with some good Ol' Southerners any day!! – Robin Washburn

Hey people on Interstate 20 westbound at McDaniel Street Exit 55 -- it's lunch time! I am packing up now with 16 lunches, and ~3 gallons of water, and some cups and plates too. Who's hungry? – Eric Morrisey

Let’s try something different - to lighten to mood: 44, Single male. Was stranded and saved by an unknown single female with beautiful smile and wonderful personality. If you remember me contact me. – Bruce Troville

My faith in humanity is hereby restored! Thank you. 13.5 hour overnight commuter, 3 pm till 4:30 am Buckhead to Canton. –John Ryan

This group resulted in the rescue of my mom. I am forever grateful! – Karen Sommerville

I urge all of you to continue putting forth kindness and generosity into the community, especially if you were on the receiving end of the good deeds of strangers yesterday. Imagine how many people could be saved and/or rehabilitated if this many people fought for them. If you would like information on volunteering in the Atlanta area, please contact me. – Maggie Young

After this is over, can we rename the group HelpOutAtlanta? We should do this every day - not just in times of crisis! Kudos to whomever started this group! - Traci Curran

My husband and I have turned off the media reports. Now that most people have been rescued, the “blame game” is starting and we just have no desire to listen to it. In the scheme of things, we all need to remember that we have to be prepared for what nature has to offer, whether we live in a city or the country, and regardless of who is our Mayor or our Governor. And quite frankly, I can’t imagine that we’ll ever be able to truly predict what weather is going to bring us.

In the meantime, have an emergency plan. Be sure to have plenty of gas in your vehicle next time it looks like bad weather, and absolutely get an emergency kit together to keep in your car - complete with food, supplies, tools, blankets, etc. - it could make all the difference in the world.

The best we can do is be smart, resourceful and helpful. And after seeing the magic that happened after one lovely woman started a Facebook group, after seeing citizens putting their efforts toward becoming the solution to a problem that was bigger than all of us, after this great big icy mess I believe that our best asset is truly each other.

"We all come from the same source. We are humanity. No one is a stranger. We are one." ~ A.D. Williams

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