BALTIMORE -- Working under a street light in front of a shelter for the homeless, Ed Sutton picked through a grocery bag marked "Sweaters, Med., Man." He pulled a beige cable knit for the man standing in front of him.
"How 'bout this?" Sutton asked, helping him pull the sweater over his head. "Does this fit?"
Sutton sounded like a helpful salesman in a men's clothing store.
But Sutton is no haberdasher. He's an auto mechanic who lives in the Anne Arundel County town of Crownsville and enjoys racing cars.
And on this chilly November night, he was one of several volunteers who drove through Baltimore delivering coats, boots, blankets, food and other items to about 400 homeless people in shelters and on the streets.
A few people refuse the donations -- one man even threw a coat and sandwich in the street -- but most line up to pick through the marked bags of clothing.
"Hallelujah!" cried George Berry III when he found a pair of work boots. "I've been needing boots for a long time."
Almost everyone thanked the volunteers. Some wanted to know what organization was responsible for the donations.
"Just us," answered Linda Greenberg of Crownsville, who had organized the collection and delivery of the items, which filled two pickups and one 14-foot-high box truck. "Oh, yeah?" said a woman named Angel, as she picked out a fur-trimmed coat. "That's really decent of you."
Greenberg said she has led at least half a dozen such efforts in Washington and Baltimore since she saw a television program last year about a boy who took clothes and blankets to the homeless in Chicago.
"I thought, if an 11-year-old boy can do something like that, I can do something even more substantial," she said, adding that she was so worried about the homeless that she "couldn't live with myself anymore unless I did something."
She placed ads in local newspapers, made hundreds of phone calls and started collecting coats, blankets, sleeping bags and other items. At first, she used her home as the collection site, but "it got so humongous that my floor almost dropped."
Last winter she led a caravan of 10 or 12 cars to Washington, where activist Mitch Snyder helped her distribute items to the homeless. Greenberg is now concentrating efforts on Baltimore because she said the need is greater there.
Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of Social Services, said she wasn't familiar with Greenberg's work in particular, but knew that "a lot of volunteers" deliver clothes and supplies to the homeless.
"Their help is very important," she said, especially now when "people need winter clothing."
Sutton saw Greenberg on a Baltimore television news program last year and called to volunteer the use of his truck. Sutton and his wife Carol now supervise the collection and sorting of thousands of items at the truck, parked near their house on Generals Highway, across the street from the Crownsville post office.
Greenberg is selective about the volunteers she accepts for middle-of-the-night deliveries. She said she keeps the number small so "we won't intimidate the people on the street."
Still, Greenberg said she needs help finding the people who sleep in doorways and under viaducts at night. She gets that help from Baltimore community activist Deborah DeShields, 28, who lived on the streets herself until four years ago. DeShields, who now lives in an apartment and works part time as a housekeeper, met Greenberg's pre-Thanksgiving volunteers at the Baltimore Civic Center and led them to shelters and other spots where homeless people stay overnight.
"Deborah knows everyone on the streets, and she knows where to find them," Greenberg said, introducing DeShields to the volunteers.
DeShields said she welcomed the group's donations because they "go directly to the people who need them."
Greenberg and Sutton have been touched by the people they've met on the streets. They talk about meeting people "who are just like us," and they worry about the homeless who "don't have their wits about them" and fail to go to shelters when the weather turns bad.
"If the situation were turned, and I was on the streets, I hope somebody would lend me a hand," Sutton said.
Greenberg said she has been active in a lot of volunteer work, but nothing as meaningful as these deliveries to the homeless.
'We're saving lives," she said. "We've helped people with pulse beats that were next to nothing," taking them to hospitals and shelters.
She and Sutton said they have been overwhelmed with donations from people who want to help. "People are going to stores, buying stuff and bringing it to us," Sutton said.
The new items are appreciated. "This stuff is new, brand new," marveled Gwen English, 29, whose family has been living in shelters, at motels and with relatives ever since an electrical fire consumed the row house they were renting last month.
English's 9-year-old daughter looked through the bags of toys. "I lost all my doll babies," she said. "I had five doll babies, and I lost them in the fire."
"Come on," said Greenberg, taking the child's hand. "We'll find something for you."
English watched them go. "I don't know what I'm going to do about Christmas," she said.
Greenberg said she is organizing a Christmas delivery to Baltimore's homeless, scheduled for Dec. 20. The Sutton truck will be open for donations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 19 and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 20.