Teens stitch together sleeping bags for homeless

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Nov. 19, 2012
(L-r) Lauren Jacobs, Abby Wilson and Kristina Jacobs tie together the layers of fabric for the sleeping bags. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
(L-r) Lauren Jacobs, Abby Wilson and Kristina Jacobs tie together the layers of fabric for the sleeping bags. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Kristina Jacobs said she’d never sewn a stitch in her life before she volunteered to help make sleeping bags for homeless people. That promise brought her to the United Congregational Church hall, where a work crew of about two dozen teenagers crouched on the floor, making string ties through layers of pieced-together scrap fabric.

“You just have to keep in mind that you’re helping the people,” Jacobs said. “Otherwise it would be a pain… it would be very frustrating.”

Three youth organizations joined forces Nov. 14 and 15 to work on the project, making what group leader Jodi Vara referred to, tongue in cheek, as “ugly sleeping bags.” The simple sleeping sacks, open on one end, will be distributed to homeless people in the city of Norwich.

Young people from Bully Busters, Project Outreach from Norwich Free Academy and the Girls’ Circle Group from Norwich Youth and Family Services worked together to construct the bags from several layers of scrap fabric, pieced together on the sewing machine and padded with old blankets in the middle. The layers were tied together at intervals, and finally the fabric “sandwich” was whipstitched by hand on three sides. Recycled men’s neckties formed sturdy ties to make the bedrolls easy to carry.

Vara, who coordinates both NFA’s Project Outreach and the Girls’ Circle, said that in past years she has been able to help distribute the bags to their recipients at the Norwich Hospitality Center. “The people who get them do really love them,” she said. A few NFA students borrowed some of the bags to do their annual sleep-out to raise awareness of homelessness, she said. “They said they were the warmest things,” she added.

Patrice Jaskiewicz, a veteran seamstress who has been doing alterations for three decades, helped James Handy of Bully Busters staff the sewing machines. “My grandmother taught me. I’ve been sewing since I was about 7,” she said. She often conducts sewing workshops for kids in the Bully Busters program, and said she loved the idea of making the sleeping bags. “We’ll probably be doing another round” of the project, Jaskiewicz said. “Unfortunately, the need is there.”

Bully Busters continues to seek donations of blankets and pillow cases for the project, which will continue Dec. 8. and include hand and foot warmers, hats and scarves. Contact coordinator Debbie Kievits at dasunflower@hotrmail.com.

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