By Eddie Wang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Five years ago, I stepped onto the University of Washington (UW) campus as a wide-eyed freshman—eager to experience all the sleepless nights, humbling moments, and coming-of-age epiphanies that come with your average college experience. What I did not expect to find was an entire community of the homeless, some close to my age, living just blocks away from me, along the cold recesses of dirty streets.
As someone who had grown up in the suburban utopia of Redmond, the unavoidable presence of visible poverty at a premiere academic institution like the UW challenged me. And in the midst of this freshman-year tension, I remember deciding that I would simply walk the streets and meet the homeless wherever they might be. That very night, I ended up spending a few hours in deep conversation with a man who was on his way to the bar to mourn the anniversary of his son’s death.
While I don’t know if anything changed in his life, I do know that for me, that conversation sparked an insatiable curiosity to know the stories behind the real faces we try so hard to hide from. Over the years, I continued these street walks, which turned into a routine joy and anchor in my life.
If I’m honest with myself, I received way more from these encounters than I was ever able to impart through meager food or clothing donations. I learned that behind every grimy face is a beautiful story simply waiting to be told. I learned that the innate desires of the heart, to love and be loved, are universal…the value of human life is intrinsic, and to attribute value to any worldly appearance or status is to reject the very thread of humanity that ties us all together.
These experiences led me and a group of remarkably talented friends to initiate a grassroots movement called “Sleepless in Seattle – Seattle Gives Back.” It’s a campaign by the people of Seattle and King County to provide every homeless person in our area with a warm sleeping bag and a sense of human dignity. Before embarking on this project, we interviewed countless homeless individuals and local nonprofits. We came to the assessment that a sleeping bag is the single most cost-effective way to show that we care. In light of this, we’ve launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $75,000 to purchase 3,700 sleeping bags—enough to cover the entire homeless population in King County. We’ve chosen to do this entirely as volunteer work, so that 100% of donated funds will go directly to purchase quality sleeping bags in bulk at $20 per bag, inclusive of tax and shipping.
In order to reach those who need these bags, we have also organized a “Big Give” distribution day on Dec. 13, where volunteers will be able to receive training from Serve Seattle, an organization committed to serving the poor in our region, before being sent off in teams throughout the county to distribute these bags. Remaining bags will be sent to nonprofit partners throughout the region to be distributed as individual needs arise.
To say that a sleeping bag will solve the challenge of homelessness is of course ridiculous, and yet I can’t help but wonder how special it would be for Seattle to come together and simply say, “I love you, and I care about you,”—not through petty words, but through powerful acts of sacrificial giving and proactive love that begin with just one sleeping bag, one random encounter, and one simple conversation.
We formally launched this campaign on Nov. 1 and it will be raising funds through Thanksgiving, on Nov. 27. At the time of writing on the night of Nov. 1, we have now raised $4,019 from 43 contributors. While this is a strong start, we will fail to meet our goal without the full support of people who are willing to come alongside the marginalized, the overlooked, and the misrepresented.
We invite you to join the movement to care for the people of our community by giving and serving at www.sleeplessinseattle.org. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” (end)
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