By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
One caring group of individuals stand united in delivering compassion and restoring dignity to people without stable and permanent housing. <!–more–>
Sleepless in Seattle (SIS), a grass-roots group of individuals, handed out new sleeping bags to King County’s homeless population on December 13, designated by the group as “Big Give” Day. The group’s online crowdsourcing campaign raised over $75,000 last month from over 500 donors to purchase the sleeping bags.
“Today is all about connecting that barrier, connecting that bridge, and letting them know that we are doing something for you, and we really want you to feel that you are not abandoned,” said Chinese American Phoebe Huang, a first-year University of Washington (UW) law student.
She helped register about 200 volunteers – high school and college students, parents, and senior citizens – at the event, one day after taking her last final exam.
While the 3,500 sleeping bags do not end homelessness, recent UW graduate and Chinese American Eddie Wang says they meet an immediate need, one he’s viewed as a challenge since his freshman year in 2009. Leftover sleeping bags will be sent to SIS’ non-profit partners around the county.
He spoke to the large group of volunteers – 50 teams of four each – at Serve Seattle’s meeting space in the Capitol Hill district, reminding them “We’re giving away just a part of who we are, and that’s what makes the campaign so special.”
Huang, Wang’s friend since college, was initially inspired by seeing him interact with the homeless living near the UW and handing out sleeping bags, socks, and even food. Soon, she began giving needed items to homeless women on her own.
Just two months ago, they began working together as SIS to do “something more coherent about it and get people involved” and were surprised at the overwhelming support from the community.
“I think a lot of us, we care about our community. We see homeless people every day, and we want to do something,” Huang said. “I think an organization like Sleepless in Seattle, it’s a place that you can volunteer at, and then you’ll meet other people who have the same heart as you.”
She continues to make an impact in her community after serving as a volunteer at the International Rescue Committee assisting refugees and those seeking assistance and asylum. After teaching English for two years at the Chinese Information and Service Center, she now volunteers as an interpreter for its legal clinic.
“I think it’s empowering to be able to help other people, and it’s also just a great way to connect,” she added.
Vicky Lin, a Taiwanese American, learned about SIS on Facebook, contacted Wang, and signed up.
Since then, she has donated money to SIS and enlisted three others – her boyfriend, female best friend and her boyfriend – to be members of “group number one” handing out sleeping bags in Federal Way.
“I thought that it would be a really great opportunity to go out and meet some of these people and get their stories and then see what else they needed,” she said. Personal interaction is a “really rewarding part to me.”
Like Huang, she has volunteered her time in several worthy causes such as soup kitchens and fundraisers for various missions and shelters during the holidays.
Lin said, “We also made a bunch of care packages of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, water, and fruit. We’ll also pass those along.”
“We don’t want today to just be a one-day event. That’s the goal, right?” Huang said. “We just want people to really get something from this that will just be with them for the rest of their lives.” (end)
For more information about Sleepless in Seattle, go to www.sleeplessinseattle.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.