Thinking of Upper Valley’s Homeless During Holidays
Bev McKinley’s project of collecting donations of sleeping bags for the homeless began when she took two of her sons’ old sleeping bags from Boy Scouts to the Haven in October. “I just came away with a really warm feeling that it was going to help somebody out,” she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bev McKinley, of Enfield, has collected 34 sleeping bags and other cold weather gear, to be distributed through Tri-County CAP in Lebanon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — Bev McKinley had a vision of children huddled together for warmth in the back seat of a car parked for the night in a parking lot somewhere in the Upper Valley.
And rather than turn away from that tragic image and get on with the business of her own life, McKinley decided to do something to help.
A mother of three grown sons and a widow for the last seven years, the 59-year-old McKinley was working through the grief of her own losses when she started volunteering three days a week at the Upper Valley Haven. Less than two months on the job, McKinley, of Enfield, said she started thinking about long winter nights and the challenges that needy people face just trying to keep warm. That got her thinking about sleeping bags and how she might put them to use.
“Homeless people really don’t have a voice,” McKinley said.. “So I just felt that I kind of wanted to help.”
McKinley recently spoke with the Valley News about her efforts to collect winter supplies for people experiencing homelessness. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
Valley News: What are your first impressions of your job at the Haven?
Bev McKinley: People are always very, very thankful for the services that the Haven provides. The one thing they always remark about is how supportive and friendly all the staff and volunteers are there. They mention that repeatedly. Everybody that comes through mentions that.
VN: Is there ever a downtime at the Haven?
BM: No, there isn’t. (laughs) I worked today (Nov. 26) and being after Thanksgiving I kind of thought everybody would have come through for the month and it would be quite slow. We had maybe an hour first off in the morning (when it was slow) and then a whole group of people came through and it was nonstop until my shift was over.
VN: What got you started collecting winter supplies for people in need?
BM: I started out with sleeping bags. The initial thought came to me at the Haven, knowing that some supplies were going to the homeless that night when it was 30 degrees outside. I think it was the following weekend when I was picturing some homeless people with the typical picture of newspapers or cardboard (for warmth). I thought maybe I’ll just start a drive. So I went on Facebook with my friends and then I did Listserves in the Upper Valley. I probably got about 12 (sleeping bags). I got really excited at that point.
Then I realized that I needed an avenue (to distribute them), and at that point I had talked to the Haven and they had recommended that I go to (Tri-County CAP). So I approached Joie (Finley Morris, a program coordinator) over there and she gave me a list of things like electric blankets for the elderly and infants, and then some tents and some tarps wouldn’t be a bad idea. So I kind of expanded (my efforts), and that’s when I reached out with a letter to the editor.
VN: So Tri-County CAP is able to get these items to the people who need them?
BM: Joie with Tri-CAP is the one basically involved with the homeless. Between her and the police, who keep her informed when they come across anybody who’s homeless, plus the Haven also has an awareness. Of course, there’s tent city in White River.
VN: I was under the impression that tent city had been disbanded.
BM: No. It’s still there. I know that when (Superstorm) Sandy was coming up through the area, Joie had to actually try to help them out and get them located somewhere else.
VN: So you started with 12 sleeping bags. How has it grown since then?
BM: I’ve turned in 34 sleeping bags, two tents and two electric blankets. I got a lot from advertising in the letter to the editor. I even had one person who had lost my information from the newspaper and went to a library to look it up.
VN: Where are you picking things up?
BM: People have met me in different places. They’ve dropped them off at the Haven. I think the most that I’ve gotten from one person was maybe five sleeping bags, ground covers and the pads that go under the sleeping bags. I was just ecstatic about it.
VN: Someone had five extra sleeping bags? Was someone just downsizing or cleaning out an old house?
BM: I think so. I think they had just stopped camping as a family.
VN: Homelessness seems like an invisible issue in the Upper Valley. It’s not something one actually sees.
BM: That’s exactly it. You could have families that are in their car in the shopping plaza during the day and nobody’s going to see that during the day because they blend in. At night they can blend in at a 24/7 factory or some kind of workplace that nobody’s going to see, as well. It’s kind of shocking. It’s amazing how they can blend in without people realizing what truly is out there. I know when I had written my letter, one person approached me and said, ‘Do we really have that in the Upper Valley?’ I said, ‘Yes, we do. It’s hard to believe, but we have more (homelessness) than people imagine.’
Last year, I worked the Thanksgiving dinner at the Sacred Heart Church (in Lebanon) and we were helping this man get some leftovers together and he said, “I live in my car, so that’s the only way I have to heat things up, when I turn my car on.” So that made a difference as far as what we could give him for leftovers. We do have people living in their cars and there are many who go unaccounted for. It does happen.
VN: Why do you want to collect electric blankets?
BM: For the elderly when they run low on fuel, it’s their way of staying warmer. They can just wrap up in the electric blankets. It’s also to wrap infants and toddlers up in their beds to keep them warm also when they are low on fuel. You want to make sure (the blankets) are regulated properly. I have some concerns with it, because their threshold for heat can be lower because their skin is thinner.
VN: How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished so far?
BM: I’ve had people commend me on it. But I didn’t start it out to get any pat on the shoulder. I just wanted to help some people. I’ve always been a giver and we live in a cold area and I hate the idea of knowing that somebody could be cold.
VN: Will you continue the drive for as long as you can keep the work going?
BM: Exactly. I don’t mind doing it as long as I can get the word out and keep passing them along to somebody who needs them. I have a Toyota Highlander and the last shipment I took to Joie I couldn’t see out the back of the car or out the sides. I was just so excited. It’s going to make somebody so much warmer this winter.
I write everybody a thank you note and my thank-you note is that with your gift you have made two people warm, the receiver and you. What better feeling can you have?
Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-727-3221 or email@example.com.