MADISON, Wis. -

An undercover mission turned into an unprecedented gift to Madison's homeless population. And it came at a time they need it most.

Thursday night, volunteers sorted donations in the basement of Metcalfe's Market. The amount was something the group said they had never seen before.

They delivered the 13 pallets to six locations downtown, and gave the items away to the homeless, like Lenny Gertken. He has lived on the streets for seven years.

"I sleep there with a lot of blankets and hold myself together," Lenny explained.

The event, though, wouldn’t have been possible if not for another cold night out, last month. Leaders from Metcalfe’s, The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and the Salvation Army went undercover to experience homelessness. After two nights and three days, Tim Metcalfe shared what he learned online and the response was unlike anything he expected.

Private donations poured in, and so did ones from Target and Walmart and Lands' End. The clothing company donated 300 items totaling $30,000.

"It's the most vulnerable community we have and it’s part of our responsibility as a society to take care of the people that need the care the most," Metcalfe said.

"It's challenging," Rashawn Villegas admitted. "I'm not really used to it."

She escaped an abusive marriage with her children to the Salvation Army.

"Everybody's circumstances and situations are different, but they need it," Rashawn said. "It's necessary to have these places."

Rashawn is a nursing assistant and good with kids, who come February, will move into her first new home after spending three months in the shelter. She'll take the new blankets the volunteers gave her Thursday.

They helped who they could for one night, but there are 3,300 homeless in Madison who count on the kindness of others all year long.

The homeless can only stay in area shelters for 90 days -- a deadline that expires in February for about 200 people.

Those interested in donating can learn more at the Feeding the State Street Family Facebook page.