Good deeds go viral: Portsmouth woman uses TikTok to solicit and distribute necessities for locals in need – The Virginian-Pilot

Erica Fernandez was sleeping in her car in 2017, camped out in a Kroger parking lot in Marietta, Georgia.
An as-needed nurse, she was behind on bills and her house was deemed unlivable by the state. Then came a knock on her car window.
“I see you here everyday at the same time,” the woman said. “You have a dog. You have a mattress in the back. Are you sleeping in your car?”
Fernandez said she was, prompting the kind stranger to take her into her own home.
“She pushed me to go back to school and finish,” said Fernandez, now 26. “I graduated, got a better job, joined the Navy and because of her, I’m where I’m at today.”
The kind act spurred Fernandez to pay forward a series of good deeds to others in need in Portsmouth, where she now lives. Fernandez spends each morning at Dunkin’ Donuts on Turnpike Road, buying breakfast for a lucky patron. After that, she and a team drive to locations where displaced people are known to sleep, such as libraries and churches. There, they pass out blankets, sleeping bags, tents and other necessities.
Fernandez documents some of the distributions on her TikTok account, arieshaswings. It has more than 230,000 followers and 2.6 million likes. Many of the items she and her team hand out are donations and purchases from followers. One video shows her organizing dozens of boxes of clothes, blankets and other donated items that she stores in the attic of her home.
Using the much needed shelfs😍❤️#arieshaswingsfamily #makeachange #bethechange #ittakesavillage #fypシ #helpthehomeless #payitforward @redbull wings😂
Fernandez stopped Thursday morning at a gas station on High Street with wife Jaqueline Dresch Duarte Fernandez and team members Sherry Presbury and Sonja Dansey, also known as “Mama D.” The group spotted three people sitting in front of a church and wanted to see if they could use some items from their truck.
By 10:40 a.m., the group handed out donations to 11 people. Slowly, the contents of their truck began to dwindle as more people who needed help found out about the visit.
A man named Quintin said he has been homeless since his mother died in 1998. The group gave him a bag full of jackets, a pillow, a pillowcase and other items. Fernandez made plans to meet with him the next day to give him a sleeping bag, a thicker coat and shoes.
“It means a lot to me,” Quintin said. “I’m tired of sleeping on this concrete.”
He has had trouble getting food stamps because he has no identification, so Fernandez gave him her business card.
“I help with that, too,” she said. “I can help you get identification and I can help you file for food stamps. If you get ahold of a phone, right here is my number.”
Fernandez was inspired in part by her father, Fred Fernandez, who died in 2019 and “got his wings,” she said. Erica is an Aries and named the group after her astrological sign and her father — Aries Has Wings.
She came to Hampton Roads in October 2020 after enlisting in the Navy. On her way to work each day, she saw homeless people and decided to help. For the first three weeks, she spent between $600 and $700 a week doing so.
“I was putting more hours in this than I was at work,” Fernandez said.
Recently, someone she helped asked if she ever thought about documenting her efforts. She began posting videos on TikTok in July.
Interest in the project has grown dramatically since. Aries Has Wings now has supporters in the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Canada and South Africa. About 12 team members have their own duties, managing the group’s website, social media and email accounts. One person in South Carolina runs the group’s Amazon, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Other team members are in New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina.
Fernandez has been medically discharged from the Navy, but thanks to donors all over the world, spends at least four hours a day helping people. She’s seeking to formalize the group and is applying for 501(c)3 status.
The group expanded its program recently, helping one single mother give her children their first Christmas. They met the woman outside a Portsmouth Walmart. She couldn’t afford groceries, so the group helped. When it learned her children had never experienced Christmas, Fernandez asked to post a video looking for sponsors. Donations came pouring in.
The family had to leave Portsmouth because it couldn’t afford rent, so the team drove about an hour and a half to drop off the gifts.
Dansey, part of the team, said one of the children was amazed by the gifts.
The group has taken on more complicated projects as well. It helped a homeless man buy a plane ticket to California, where he’s from. They paid for him to stay in a hotel until his identification card came in; he’s now running his own business, Fernandez said.
But there have been some snags in their plans. The team spent hours putting together Christmas stockings to pass out, only for someone to steal them from a team member’s vehicle.
“Whoever it is thinks that they’re probably getting something cool, but they’re going to end up with a bunch of cards that say Merry Christmas from the Aries Has Wings family,” Fernandez said. “We all have our signatures on it, candy and candy canes and we put cups in there, juice, all sorts of stuff.”
But the setbacks won’t get them down. The team already is making plans for 2022, including “Random Act of Kindness” week. Starting the second week of January, the group is challenging its TikTok fans to do something kind and tag them. To enter into a special contest, they need to submit the act via email. The winners will get a free Aries Has Wings hoodie.
Presbury said Thursday she got involved because she saw the TikTok account a few months ago and was inspired. Once she learned the group is based in Portsmouth, she wanted in, letting Fernandez know during one of her live videos that she wanted to help.
“This young girl right here has got a heart of gold. She would give you her shirt off her back,” Presbury said, huddled between friends outside Dunkin’ Donuts.
Presbury has actually seen Fernandez give away her own pants, she said.
Social media provides a fun way for the team to interact with fans. Some have sent the team snacks, like macaroni and cheese candy canes, or challenged them to the one-chip challenge, where content creators film themselves as they eat a flaming hot chip made by Paqui.
“After we open our donations and talk to everybody about what we did this week and all that stuff, then we do our craziness,” Fernandez said.
Behind every donation or act of kindness, Fernandez said it all goes back to the woman who helped her in that Kroger parking lot in Georgia.
“That’s why I do this,” she said. “You never know. Something so simple can change somebody’s whole life.”
To find out how to help Fernandez, go to linktr.ee/arieshaswings or tiktok.com/@arieshaswings. Other options include [email protected] or 757-377-2870.
Saleen Martin, 757-446-2027, [email protected]

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