Reaching out to help the homeless

Sleepless in Seattle program offering care packages for those in need

A caregiver by day, Tara Hill is a compassionate volunteer by night.

It’s just her nature to help others caught in the throes of homelessness and despair.

“To me, it’s really about bringing a smile, bringing a home to somebody and letting them know they’re loved,” Hill said.

When Hill and her friends – area volunteers – go to work this weekend for Sleepless in Seattle’s annual Big Give, they will bring relief to the many people, young and old, who are living on the streets, in cars and encampments.

The program – fueled by a crowdsourcing campaign – has been active in raising a goal of $60,000 to purchase and distribute 4,000 sleeping bags, mats and winter care packages to the homeless community throughout King County.

The effort kicks into full speed Saturday when volunteer groups form to help distribute the essentials to homeless areas throughout South King County, including Auburn, Kent and Federal Way. Organizers – behind the strength of an estimated 360 volunteers – intend to deliver goods to as many homeless people as possible throughout the day.

Sleepless in Seattle is a volunteer-led group based in of Seattle committed to caring, meeting, serving and befriending those experiencing homelessness in King County.

Hill, who actively serves her local church and community, volunteered for the Big Give the past two years, and this fall was given the role to lead the South King County team. She has spent time with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in finding those in need through search and rescue efforts.

“This last one with Federal Way really hit me in a way more than prior (experiences) just because you’re seeing people’s homes,” Hill said. “This is real, just by hearing their stories.”

The Sleepless in Seattle movement began in 2014, the brainchild of Eddie Wang, a University of Washington graduate, whose idea to focus on sleeping bags came from his experiences working with the homeless and from his time as an economics and social work major.

“I heard stories, like one man having gone through 20 foster homes by the time he was 18,” Wang said. “I just realized others needed help.”

That first year, 2014, more than $75,000 was raised as an estimated 220 volunteers gathered and went out to distribute sleeping bags to the homeless. In 2015, the team raised $90,000 through an Indiegogo campaign and outside donations.

The Big Give has struggled to reach its campaign goals this year.

The demand is greater than ever, said Wang, who continues to do church-related work centering on discipleship with students.

“Each year it keeps growing by a substantial amount,” Wang said of the county’s homeless problem.

Hill is doing her part. Others have stepped up. Catering 4 You and Golden Steer Steak ‘n Rib House in Kent are sponsoring to feed volunteers. Others are willing to join the cause.

The payoff comes in genuine exchanges.

“One (homeless) man in particular came up to me and said, ‘Thanks for giving a damn about us, thanks for coming and looking for us,” Hill said. “I thought, ‘wow.’ … They want help. They want to know they are loved.”

Sleepless in Seattle’s 2016 Big Give needs volunteers and donations. If you would like to help, visit sleeplessinseattle.org.

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