By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Tammy Green can still recall the moment when something in her mind clicked, and her life’s path was set.
It was back when Green, who works as a beautician in Lander, was in junior high school. She had a friend named Jeni.
“I had a good childhood. My home had everything,” Green told Cowboy State Daily. “I walked into her home one day, and she didn’t have anything. Her mother was sitting there in a wheelchair.”
That affected her deeply, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Then one day not too much later, Green realized she really didn’t need the expensive boots she was wearing all that much. So, she took them off and gave them to Jeni.
“It started right then,” she said. “Every part of me was like, ‘I’m going to be that person who gives it forward, no matter what.’”
She recently accomplished that on a larger scale, gathering and delivering hundreds of backpacks filled with necessities to homeless people in Salt Lake City.
A Huge Wyoming Heart
Tammy met her husband, Shane, when they were both still quite young. They’ve been married for 45 years and have three children and 11 grandchildren.
And as her family grew, Tammy nurtured the flower of charity that the experience with Jeni had planted in her heart. That frequently meant going out of the way to help even those nobody else wanted to help and trying to teach her children to do the same.
She extended charity to a group of homeless Native Americans in Riverton dubbed the “park rangers” because they used to frequent public parks there. Taking her teen children along, Tammy made a regular practice of “Fun Fridays,” when they would go to the park and offer the “park rangers” food and tips they’d earned at their jobs.
She and her children also offered regular donations to the Fremont County Group Homes, shelters for at-risk youth in Riverton and Lander.
More recently, she noticed some of the destitution long seen in Riverton starting to spill over into Lander. She discovered a disheveled pair of men digging through a dumpster near a car wash.
That charitable part of her, triggered so many years ago by her friend’s plight, kicked into high gear. And it wouldn’t be denied, even if the men were standoffish at first
“I went up the them and started talking to them, and they asked, ‘Who are you?’” Tammy said. “I told them, ‘I’m not anybody, but you just need to get out of your pee-soaked pants.’”
She eventually convinced them to accept food and new, clean clothing before going on their way.
Earlier this year, Tammy and Shane got the terrible news that he’s suffering from advanced cancer. So, they had to make a series of trips to Salt Lake City, where Shane could receive cutting-edge treatments.
True to herself, it didn’t take long for Tammy to notice that something had changed in Salt Lake since she’d been there last. Homeless people seemed to be everywhere.
One evening while she and Shane were having dinner with some new-found local friends, Tammy asked about the terrible plight she was seeing all around her.
“There’s apparently been a move there to push homeless people out of the parks, so they’ve moved more into the streets,” she said. “When I asked what could be done, our friends didn’t seem to know.”
Tammy couldn’t accept that.
“It was, like, raining tears for me down there,” she said. “That feeling that there were just so many people that weren’t wanted. And I thought, ‘As long as I’m here, I’m going to do something about this.’”
They were in their pickup together when Shane noticed something he’d seen many times before.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Something is going on in your brain. What is it?’” she recalled.
Hardly missing a beat, Tammy replied that she’d figured out what to do for the struggling people she’d seen all over Salt Lake. Once home in Wyoming between treatments, she’d put out a call over social media for the good folks of Fremont County to muster necessities, and backpacks to put them in.
“I asked for nicer stuff,” she said. “Like, if they were going to donate socks, to donate a nicer pair of wool socks.”
Her call was answered. Every morning, her front porch would be practically overflowing.
“We never really knew the faces of the people who dropped stuff off,” Tammy said. “It was like angels were dropping things off every night. It was just magic.”
Tammy began stocking each backpack, turning it into a care package.
“I would typically pack socks, T-shirts and underwear,” she said. “There would be jerky, gloves, warm hats and water bottles. And books, I always tried to include a book.”
Eventually, there were more than 300 backpacks. And it was time to set her plan into motion.
Back To The Streets, And The Stories
As Shane and Tammy made regular trips to Salt Lake for his treatments, they took along their precious cargo.
“Our truck is really big, and we stuffed it clear full with backpacks two times, and mostly full a third time,” she said.
During each trip, Tammy and Shane would hit the streets, distributing backpacks and listening to peoples’ stories.
“Some people told me that they thought what we were doing was dangerous, that we should carry bear spray or something,” Tammy said.
While staying mindful of potentially sketchy situations, the couple still formed many new bonds and heard amazing and heartbreaking stories from Salt Lake’s homeless.
‘I Don’t Need A Stupid Backpack!’
One older man was proud, and not too friendly at first.
“He told me ‘I don’t want any of your stuff! I don’t need a stupid backpack!’” Tammy said. “He was in his 60s, and he was just broken. You could see it in his face.”
Tammy’s warmth eventually thawed the man’s icy demeanor, and he started to share details of his experiences, saying he had worked hard his entire life, only to end up with nothing.
“That was super-hard to know,” Tammy said.
The man, who has barefoot when she met him, finally relented and accepted socks and shoes from Tammy.
“We met a 17-year-old girl from Oklahoma,” Tammy said. “Her parents had split, gotten a divorce. They had just kind of checked out on her, so she decided to go to Utah to see what she could find there.
“We also met another young woman who was absolutely beautiful, but you could tell, she was just lost in a bottle.”
Tammy and Shane continued to offer care packs and listening ears, without judgement.
“When we would go out to eat, we would save half of our meals to share with the homeless people,” she said. “Or, if we didn’t do that, we would order a third meal, put it in a to-go box and find somebody to give it to.”
Time To Go, But Memories Remain
Shane’s treatments finally wrapped up, so Tammy isn’t sure when or if they’ll return to Salt Lake. But if they do, she plans on bringing more backpacks and venturing on to the streets, offering help to the needy.
And she’ll never forget the people she met while they were there.
“Every time we would go out, somebody would come up to us and give us hugs,” she said. “And they would tell us, ‘Your backpacks really made a difference.’”