Editor’s note: Poverty and homelessness continue to be part of the fabric of America. The reasons vary from job loss, chronic illness, marriage failure, substance abuse, mental illness or some combination thereof. Children become homeless through no fault of their own, caught in the wake of life situations over which they have no control. Having a hat (knitted or crocheted), scarf (fleece, so many great colors and patterns, little sewing) and a drawstring bag (holding personal care items) that is made with care and belongs to you seems a simple thing, however it can help restore a child’s dignity and remind them they are special.
Today we interview quilter Barb Johnston of Pahrump, Nevada, who works in her community to provide drawstring bags filled with necessities, hats and scarves for homeless kids.
Gen Q: Have the numbers of homeless families gone up in your area?
Barb J: It’s gone up every year, the numbers keep climbing. I don’t know if it’s the climate. We’re almost a bedroom community from Las Vegas, and we’ve never recovered from when the bubble burst and the economy and everything slowed down. We’re the poorest county in this state, even though we have Las Vegas and Reno. Everyone has some homelessness. A lot of people move here because of the freedom of less regulation. You can do almost anything you want. There’s not the zoning, and things like that so people are more free to do what they want.
It’s also a lower cost to live here because it’s warmer, even though it’s cold in the winter. It does freeze sometimes. We have a huge population that live in fifth wheels, like camping trailers. It’s just very low income. A lot is the slow economy, and everything is cut back. We’re just not seeing an increase yet on anything.
GenQ: Tell us about your charity project
Barb J: We’re in our sixth year making bags for our homeless and in-transition students. A lot of the students are between permanent homes. Loss of jobs with their parents, or family not quite sure where they’re going to be living. They’re kind of like a type of gypsy almost.
GenQ: How many kids in your area are in need?
Barb J: In our county, we have just under 600 in need, that is by federal guidelines. This is based on the what is reported at the end of the year. I get the numbers from the school system. There’s a woman here who is in charge of the programs (food/meal/etc) and gets volunteers to do what they can, and that’s how I got started a few years ago. I’m a senior citizen volunteer, not a teacher, not employed by the school. I’m senior citizen that likes to do simple sewing projects. I used to do more quilting and I just can’t as much. Fat quarters are a perfect pre-cut size to make the drawstring bags.
Gen Q: Is there anything included with the bags?
Barb J: We include basic personal care items, including soap, shampoo, things like that. Students range from kindergarten to 12th grade, so the personal care items change. For the older students, we go for small deodorants, for the young ladies we do feminine hygiene products and razors for the young men.
The bags are distributed through the school. We never meet the children because of privacy rules. But we’ve seen some of the thank-you notes, and sometimes, especially the young ladies when they come out of the nurses office with feminine hygiene products. They’re given a huge gift because it’s not in a grocery bag.
Gen Q:How many others work with you on this?
Barb J: I had done hats, so I still do hats, but I asked the woman in charge of the program what she can use. She asked for some sort fabric bag. We’re not a guild; we’re strictly volunteers of about 10 – 15. It does change some, but there is a core group. We’re in an area that gets a lot of snowbirds.
Gen Q: If I’m not mistaken, you used to have a charity called Quilts for Cancer?
Barb J: Right and we’ve gone way,??? just because quilting has gotten more expensive. So we do a few quilts for the most needy cancer patients here in town. We’re not doing any more outside of town. We’re about an hour from Las Vegas and the numbers there are just out of this world. A small charity just can not do it.
Gen Q: What kinds of things of things are you needing/wanting to help meet the needs of these children?
Barb J: Fabric, either yardage or fat quarters. Suitable for children. The fabric needs to be age appropriate. And notions…we need basic notions because ours run out and wear out.
Gen Q: ON the whole, have you seen an increase/decrease in charitable giving in your area?
Barb J: Definitely a decrease. The economy in general, when people lose jobs, they just can’t give any more. You have to take care of your family first. Charitable giving comes later. It’s unfortunate because the need is still here. And there’s less people to give. My husband and I are okay with our pension and social security. I have time to give and I like basic sewing. So we’re in a fortunate spot. I can do this, and a lot of the women too, but our personal finances can only go so far.
if you can help…
If you are able to assist Barb and her volunteers in helping the homeless kids in her area, please email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.