By Tim Gruver
Northwest Asian Weekly
A good night’s sleep may be something many people take for granted, but for the homeless, it can be a constant struggle. A single blanket can mean surviving another day, and a group of volunteers are doing their part to ensure Seattle’s homeless keep warm this winter.
Founded in 2014 by a group of Seattle-based volunteers, “Sleepless in Seattle” (SIS) is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to provide every person living on the streets of Seattle with a sleeping bag this winter. The original group had 225 volunteers around 50 zones around King County.
“We’re looking to meet, serve, and befriend every homeless person in King County with a sleeping bag and a smile,” said SIS organizer Eddie Wang. “The hope is that because we’re doing the multiple locations, the volunteers will have the time to encourage them, to bless them, and really just to share some love.”
Wang studied economics and social work at the University of Washington with an interest in charitable work. After graduating in 2013, Wang joined SIS out of a desire to help the less fortunate in accordance with his faith.
“I realized that everything I did in my life was kind of for myself,” Wang said. “At the time, I was pretty convinced by Jesus and some of his words from the Sermon on the Mount, about the way you live your life, loving your enemies, and giving away what you have.”
In 2014, the group gathered financial and volunteer support from a host of residents, corporations, and nonprofits to reach and help the homeless. The team ultimately raised support to buy and distribute 3,500 sleeping bags throughout King County with the help of 220 volunteers and 17 nonprofits.
The following year, the group expanded its efforts to buy and distribute 4,000 sleeping bags and mats to Seattle’s homeless, with the help of 250 volunteers and over 20 nonprofits.
This winter, SIS hopes to meet its $60,000 fundraising goal to supply 4,000 individuals in need during its “Big Give” online fundraising event on Nov. 19, as 360 of its volunteers will gather throughout King County to distribute sleeping bags and other winter weather materials.
The group primarily supplies mummy style sleeping bags, which allow only the mouth and nose of the sleeper to be exposed when fully closed. A mummy bag’s form-fitting nature offers greater insulation than a normal sleeping bag by reducing the amount of air around the body and allowing the sleeper to maintain a more constant body temperature.
SIS further supplies winter care packages, which include everything from warm socks, food, and water.
It will further be conducting its outreach efforts in six regions across King County for the first time in its history. Each region is led by its own coordinator and a core group of volunteers.
“The idea behind this was that if we decentralized [the organization], we could reach more people,” Wang said. “If you’re based in one location, you can get much better coverage.”
These regions include Congregations for the Homeless in Bellevue, Greenwood Square in Greenwood, University Christian Church in the U-District, 415 Westlake in Belltown, the Seattle Chinese Alliance Church in Renton, and Calvary Chapel in Kent.
Wang hopes that his group’s fundraiser will not only bring aid to Seattle’s homeless, but foster better relations between neighbors of all kinds.
“The hope is that people come away from an event like this empowered to continue doing things like this on a daily basis and even building relationships,” Wang said. “You can’t build relationships with 50 people out there, but are there one or two people you see on a fairly regular basis that you can build a genuine friendship with.”
Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.