Shay Kelley's Project 50/50 Visits 50 States In 50 Weeks Helping Homeless

Last year, HuffPost Impact shared the story of Shay Kelley and her Project 50/50: traveling across all 50 states in 50 weeks to help the homeless.

With just her faithful dog, Zuzu, to keep her company and living out of her truck, Kelley drove around the country collecting donations in the bed of her pickup and redistributing them to the homeless.

Kelley is on the road again for round two as the 2011 project is underway. Project 50/50 is currently in Utah, the 12th state on their list with 38 to go.

In 2010, Project 50/50 collected and redistributed $30,000 worth of goods during the year-long trip, including 11,000 food items and 4,000 pairs of socks.

The 25-year-old's ambitious homeless project was born of personal misfortune. In 2009, Kelley was working for AT&T when she was transferred from Illinois to Jackson, Mississippi. Soon after, she was laid off. Her car was stolen the same week. She couldn't pay her rent and before long she was out on the streets.

It was then she had the idea to launch Project 50/50.

"When I was homeless I really examined my dreams," she told HuffPost. "I always wanted to travel."

Project 50/50 would allow her travel and experience things in a unique way, all the while helping the homeless.

She worked in a restaurant until she could save up enough to buy a truck and began her journey in January 2010. She still didn't have much and ate however she could, living day by day.

She was determined to make an impact in any way possible, often resorting to hitting the pavement the old-fashioned way. "Last year I was primarily focused on going door to door," she said.

Along the way, she also connected with 150 nonprofits.

Kelley finished off her 2010 project in Hawaii (flying on a donated plane ticket), where she was met by her fiance Shane Patrick, a college friend whom she had reconnected with, for their wedding.

Patrick joined Kelley on the road for her 2011 50/50 Project. Starting in South Carolina in January, they've traveled west to California through the Southern U.S. and have continued up through Nevada and now Utah.

The couple still lives and works out of a pickup truck named Jethro. But Project 50/50's approach has gained in sophistication and reach since last year. Every week, Kelley and Patrick try to do 30 hours of community service, 30 hours of community outreach, and administrative duties, including making an inventory of all their donations.

When they arrive in a new place they get started collecting donations any way they can.

As Kelley explains on her website:

"We host food and clothing drives. This means that we knock on doors, we stand in front of grocery stores, we hold signs. We beg for others. We use social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to connect the people with the resources to the people who need them. Networking is key."

Their pickup truck, in addition to transportation and shelter, gives them a place to collect donations.

"We try to fill up [the truck bed] and empty it at least once a week," Kelley said.

Last year, Kelley reached her goal to collect 10,000 food items, though she and Patrick are aiming a bit higher this year:

"The objective in 2011 is for 2 houseless people to give away 100,000 things by the end of the Project year, LOVE the unloved, discover and connect a nation of people who LOVE to give and get involved, and grow into better versions of ourselves."

Project 50/50 will collect any item they can turn into a donation. "An item could be anything from a stick of deodorant to a sleeping back to a television or microwave," Kelley said.

So far they've collected over 26,000 items, which -- 12 weeks in -- means they're safely on track to meet their 100,000-item goal.

Kelley and Patrick also maintain that volunteering services provides a great resource for those in need. They use their own expertise to help out as often as they can. Kelley said her husband's mechanical skills can often help people a great deal:

"He likes to fix things, he can fix bicycles and trucks," she said.

If a bicycle is someone's only method of transportation and it breaks, she explained, repairing it for him or her is invaluable.

When asked if she and Patrick planned to continue Project 50/50 next year, Kelley was hopeful but unsure:

"It's a day by day, moment by moment, week by week project. Last year I started with $100 and a dream. This year it's no different. I would absolutely love to, but it depends where the stick will fall."

Whatever she ends up doing, the time she spent on the road for Project 50/50 will stay with Kelley. "I can't see myself living in a house," said Kelley, who has been living out of her truck since August 2009. The thought of waking up everyday surrounded by the same walls seems odd, she explained.

She was certain about one thing, though: "Whatever I do [in the future], it will be to help people."

Readers can visit Project 50/50's website to learn more or find out how to get involved. They can also connect with Project 50/50 via Facebook or Twitter.