Homeless warmed one scrap at a time

By Greg Gelpi

Patching and sewing bits and scraps of cloth together, volunteers work year-round to give the homeless warmth from the cold streets.

Helping Hands, a group of volunteers at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, gathers pieces of cloth that many would discard without a thought and makes sleeping bags for the homeless.

"I wanted to do something with the resources we already had," Kathy Guptill, who sparked the project, said. "There's so much material in someone's basement that is going to be thrown out that could keep someone warm."

The group began sewing the sleeping bags more than two years ago and has sewn and passed out 121 sleeping bags since then. The goal for this year is 70.

With tears in her eyes, Guptill said how much the ministry means to her.

Working with homeless people for more than 18 years, she said that some choose not to go to shelters. Those are the ones that need the sleeping bags the most.

"Those are the people who really bare the cold," Guptill said.

Helping Hands makes the sleeping bags through the year and passes them out in the fall. The volunteers go to the streets of Atlanta, bringing the sleeping bags to the homeless.

"We would knock on a box, and they would be all huddled in there," Guptill said.

She said she asked one man if he wanted a sleeping bag and soon a line of homeless people formed looking for sleeping bags one time.

"It was like a whole year's work gone in 15 minutes," Guptill said.

And the kindness of the ministry doesn't stop with the gift, members of the group said.

"One person said he could now give his coat away since he had a sleeping bag," Martha Dupree, one volunteer, said.

With six long tables of boxes of cloth and sewing materials, the volunteers make sure that every scrap is put to use.

"It keeps me out of the bars," Alice Ring, another volunteer said laughing.

She held up a thin band of cloth and said even small pieces of cloth can be transformed into a sleeping bag.

Like a "puzzle" the volunteers piece together the cloth scraps into 85-inch square sections and use three layers of material and stuffing to make the sleeping bags.

"It's really exciting to see how it all comes together and to go downtown and to see how excited they get," Dupree said.

The group also knits scarves and hats for the homeless. Last year, the group made 71 hats and 123 scarves.

Meeting every Tuesday for three hours, the group endures illness and arthritis to continue their work of service and giving. Guptill said she even finds herself knitting during church services.

"It's almost like our babies, watching them being born," Guptill said.

Guptill said her only hope is that another church will begin the sleeping bag charity work as well.

"My goal is to get other churches to do this," she said. "I'm hoping and praying that someone at another church will begin this at their church. Physically, we can only do so much here."