The reflection of a white grocery bag first caught Mary Altendorfer Dinger’s attention Monday night as she drove on Hwy. 169 just outside of Aitkin, Minn. Then she saw the homeless man lying on the pavement just inside the fog line in temperatures around 15 degrees below zero. He was suffering from early hypothermia.
Dinger summoned help and a state trooper found the man a warm place to sleep and bought him a hot meal, too.
The story was posted on the State Patrol’s Facebook page and by Wednesday afternoon had about 3,000 likes. Without their help, the man, who went by the name Adam, may have died, the post said.
Dinger had just left Sowing Seeds for God, a ministry she founded in Aitkin to advocate for those suffering from addiction, when she spotted Adam and his grocery and duffel bags on the side of the road. Adam, about 40 years old, had been living in Grand Rapids with a friend. But after a falling out, he had nowhere to go and was walking to Minneapolis to find a place to stay. After seven hours on the road, Adam was tired, cold and hungry. And clinging to life, Dinger said.
“That is not something you expect to see,” Dinger said. “I was grateful to find him alive. Once they lay down, they don’t have a whole lot of time to survive.”
Dinger got Adam to his feet and called 911. Two other motorists also stopped and offered their warm vehicles as a shelter until help arrived. Trooper Glen Bihler took it from there.
Bihler and ambulance attendants determined that Adam didn’t have frostbite or need medical attention, but he had no place to go. So Bihler took him to McDonald’s and bought him a double Quarter Pounder meal.
Bihler then arranged for Adam to spend the night in the heated lobby of the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office because the Salvation Army was unable to take him in.
And that is a real problem, Dinger said. Her recovery ministry serves people who struggle with addictions and dependencies, but does not have room to run a shelter. Dinger said she’s working to establish a shelter in the area so people like Adam have a place to go.
On her Facebook page, Dinger promises there will be a shelter in Aitkin before next winter.
“This infuriates me to the core of my heart and soul. It is so wrong,” she wrote. “I don’t want to ever see and experience what I just did tonight.”
She hopes Adam’s story will raise awareness of the need for more shelters. “It’s a need that people are greatly unaware of,” she said.
Dinger, for her part, deflected credit for helping save the man’s life.
“God brought me to him,” she said. “We are meant to love and be our brother’s keeper. This was just a normal act of faith.”