NICHOLSON — During these days of freezing temperatures, more and more homeless people are in need of means of keeping warm. Fortunately, local volunteers have been gathering together to make sleeping bags so the homeless will have an easier time enduring the cold. The most recent endeavor was when Factoryville resident Joan Kupetsky held a day of service on Monday, Jan. 15 at the parish hall of St. Patrick’s Church.
Volunteers and parishioners used the parish hall’s tables to sew donated quilts and articles of clothing to make them into sleeping bags. Kupetsky held this day of service to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Martin Luther King was about what you are doing to help your fellow man,” she said. “So, what better way to do a service project than to honor Martin Luther King?”
Kupetsky’s friends and family members participated by stitching quilts together to form them into sleeping bags. They tucked clothes such as scarves, gloves, and underwear inside the newly made sleeping bags as they rolled them. They also used donated neckties to strap the rolled sleeping bags in place. When rolling the bags, they recited a little prayer, which they called the “roll-up prayer.” It goes, “Lord, we take the work of our hands and bless it; and in Thy name, let the person that receives this gift know that he or she is loved.”
Kupetsky’s granddaughter Talia Herrera, of Scranton, took time off of work to help make sleeping bags.
“It’s satisfying,” Herrera said about helping others.
The Sleeping Bag Project, also called My Brothers’ Keeper Quilt Group, was the brainchild of Kupetsky’s friend and Hop Bottom resident Flo Wheatley, whose family has been making sleeping bags for the homeless for 35 years. Whealey was inspired to help the homeless back in 1978 when she encountered the help of a homeless man when she needed to stay in New York City for a few weeks to seek treatment for her son Leonard Wheatley.
“When my son was 14, he came down with cancer,” she said. “We went to Sloan Kettering (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) in Manhattan to get care for him. My husband (who stayed in their hometown of Hop Bottom) gave me a living allowance to stay in New York for a week. It rained that week.”
Wheatley recalled one night when she and Leonard were heading from the hospital to the subway train as Leonard was feeling ill.
“I heard a man behind me saying ‘Lady, you need help.’ I said, ‘I’m OK. I just have to get to the 7th Ave. subway.’ With that, he grabbed my suitcase with my money in it. I didn’t know this man or what he was trying to do.”
When she and Leonard transferred the train, they saw the man with their suitcase.
“I realized he wasn’t trying to hurt me, so I gave him a $5 tip (a large tip back then),” she said. “But he didn’t give me the suitcase.”
Wheatley remembers seeing the man leaving the train station to hail a cab. Once the man was in the cab, he told her to get in. When she was in the cab, the man looked at her.
“He’s looking at me in my soul through my eyes and said, ‘Don’t abandon me.’ I just shook.”
This made her realize that homeless people need help. During the two years Wheatley was in New York, she once saw another homeless man covered with a pink crotchet blanket. Since she was able to sew, that’s when she realized her vision of making quilts for the homeless and asked her three children to give her their unused clothes.
“We made a blanket but it was large enough to make into a sleeping bag,” she said. “On the kitchen table, we made eight sleeping bags, and my husband delivered them to New York.”
Wheatley received a call from St. Patrick’s Church in Nicholson and was asked to show other church members her family project. She agreed on the condition of inviting many other churches. Once she was doing workshops, My Brothers’ Keeper Quilt Group swept the community, becoming well known.
Today, My Brothers’ Keeper Quilt Group, which started out as a family project, has expanded to many areas in the northeast region, all of which donate sleeping bags to their area shelters. Through the years, My Brothers’ Keeper Quilt Group has donated over 210,000 sleeping bags in cities, such as Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Binghamton and Washington DC. The Wheatley family, including Leonard who is now 52 and recovering from cancer, continues to contribute to this cause. He picks up the sleeping bags to distribute them.
“It’s very good for the volunteers,” Leonard said. “It makes them feel good, which is cool.
Leonard’s sisters also contribute to this cause. Gloria Hoeffner contributes by hosting workshops, which teach people how to make sleeping bags out of quilts. Margaret Olsen, who resides in Staten Island, NY, does the computer work for the group while the family patriarch Jim Wheatley helps distribute the quilts.
The sleeping bags, which were made on the day of service, will be distributed to many shelters, including Keystone Mission in Scranton, Cathering McAuley Center in Scranton, Hope Rescue Mission in Elmira, NY and VOA (Volunteers of America) Women’s Shelter in Binghamton, NY.
Besides sleeping bags, many toiletry items such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and lip balm were donated by volunteers and parishioners and given to the homeless. Kupetsky makes health kits by placing small donated items such as buttons, needle and thread, and bandages, inside little medicine bottles.
“I think it’s wonderful to help others,” said Kupetsky, who has seen poverty first-hand when she visited Mexico, from where she adopted six children. “That’s what it is to be a Christian.”
Volunteers stitching a sleeping bag together are, from left, Ellen Kanton, Lake Sheridan; Marian Booth, Lake Sheridan; Loretta Slowikowski, Factoryville; Ann Wall, Brooklyn, PA; and Walter Riedinger,West Nicholson.
Volunteers making a sleeping bag out of quilts are, from left, Talia Herrera, Scranton; Joan Kupetsky, Factoryville; Katelynn Morden, Scranton; and Sam Kupetsky, Scranton.