LA PLUME — While the temperature outside was well below freezing, Keystone College students and community volunteers gathered in Evans Hall on Monday, Jan. 18 to work on a project that will eventually bring some warmth and comfort to homeless people during such weather conditions.
The Sleeping Bag Project, run by the nonprofit My Brothers’ Keeper Quilt Group, provides free sleeping bags, made from recycled fabrics, to people out on the streets. All materials are donated and assembled by volunteers. Keystone College’s Diversity Services Program sponsored the service project for the fifth year at the college in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Lucas Taylor, director of student activities at Keystone College, estimated more than 50 volunteers worked to complete at least 20 sleeping bags during this year’s event.
The Sleeping Bag Project was established in 1985, but the first sleeping bag was made in 1982.
It all started on a rainy day in New York City when Flo Wheately, of Hop Bottom and her son Leonard, then 14, had an encounter with a homeless man they would never forget. Stranded with their suitcases in the city during a downpour, Leonard weak from chemotherapy treatments, the pair was assisted by a homeless man, who carried their luggage and helped them to their friend’s house.
The man then left them with a simple challenge: “Don’t abandon me.”
Although she never saw the man again, Wheately later witnessed another homeless person shivering out in the cold with a tattered blanket, and got the idea to make warm blankets from old clothing and other recycled fabric, to give away to those in need. Today, according to Wheately, the Sleeping Bag Project exists in every state in the United States, as well as other locations around the world, and hundreds of thousands of sleeping bags were made and distributed to the homeless.
Keystone College senior Vika Shpolyansky said it was the story of how the project began that inspired her to volunteer on Monday.
“There’s people out there who care about others, no matter what is going on in their own homes,” she explained.
She said this was her first time volunteering for the project. She wanted to help in other years, but was unable, due to her class schedule. This year, however, she found herself free during that time slot. She was glad she came, especially when she thought about the impact such a simple act of service would have on the people on the receiving end.
“There are people sleeping on the ground in 15-degree weather,” she said. “This helps keep them warm.”
The project’s motto is to “keep someone alive tonight, until they can be helped or healed by someone in our society tomorrow.”