Giving of herself

Jackie Vest creates Facebook group WARMTH to help people who are homeless survive the winter—and beyond

The Facebook group WARMTH (for the homeless and those in need) lives by the motto “It IS better to give than to receive.” 

Its nearly 200 members are giving of themselves, their time, and their talents to let people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty know they care. And one UITS staff member is behind it all. 

From the heart. "I want to raise awareness and be a hub in gathering/creating/providing the things our homeless or others in need can usesome of which will help keep them alive," Vest said.

Jackie Vest, a payroll /accounts receivable associate in the Finance Office, saw a need and filled it. Now, her group works with the Bloomington organization Beacon Inc. and its executive director, Forrest Gilmore, to provide supplies and support to people without homes in Monroe County. In addition to her full-time job, Vest spends about 20-25 hours a week on WARMTH work, delivering supplies, crocheting bedrolls, posting to Facebook, and answering messages. 

IT Connections recently chatted with Vest to get the scoop on WARMTH 

What prompted you to start WARMTH?  

I was crocheting scarves one evening and had posted some to sell on Facebook, as I have done winters past. It occurred to me that there were people living outside who needed my scarves more than I needed to sell them. 

Want to get involved in WARMTH? Visit the Facebook page or contact Vest directly. 

I took down my post and shared that they were no longer for sale and that I would be donating them all to the homeless. I then asked if anyone else had a handmade scarf or hatthey were welcome to donate them to me and I would add them to mine.  

Shortly after that, I felt called by my higher power to seek donations from others and created a Facebook group to help me do that.  

What is the group’s goal? 

I want to raise awareness and be a hub in gathering/creating/providing the things our homeless or others in need can usesome of which will help keep them alive. For example, we’ve been making plastic bed rolls out of “plarn,” which is basically plastic yarn. You take recycled grocery bags, cut them into three-inch strips and tie those end to endand then crochet or knit them into a bed roll with carrying straps. During the winter, the rolls help prevent hypothermia because they form a barrier against the cold ground, and they stay dry and insect free as well.  

Life-saving bed roll. Made from roughly 500-700 plastic bags, each plarn bed roll is a waterproof, insect-resistant barrier to the cold ground. 

It is a huge undertaking making these bed rolls. It takes 500-700 plastic bags and many hours of cutting and making into plarn as well as creating the finished product. WARMTH makes this possible because we have some people donating plastic bags, some creating plarn, and some making the actual bed roll. We coordinate all of this inside the group.  

Also, by me starting this group out in Greene County, I am now a drop-off point for people out this way to leave supplies at my home so I can bring them into town and then where they are most needed. It takes a lot of the leg work out of it for people, which in turn makes them a lot more likely to donate. 

What has the community response been so far? 

It has been great! We have donated approximately 200 handmade scarves/hats and 30 bags full of winter coats and warm-weather clothing specific to what Beacon was requesting. We have donated seven plarn bed rolls. We are about to donate 60 blessing bags full of personal hygiene items including underwearhot hand warmers, rain jackets, and emergency silver blankets. 

Loaded up. Vest lives in Greene County, and she's happy to collect and transport supplies from rural neighbors into Bloomington.

What’s next for WARMTH? 

I will be working with local food pantries soon and have been asked to partner with Hotels for the Homeless on a fundraiser. I’ve also been trying to get a couple of schools involved. One is considering getting involved with WARMTH as a project for honors students, and a local Future Farmers of America group is considering making the bed rollsI am super excited to help them learn more about caring for those less fortunate and seeing a side to the world they might not otherwise. 

Anything else to mention? 

I’d like to credit Katherine Devich as one of my reasons for getting more involved in community efforts. She is one of the CIB’s front desk ladies, and she also works for the Finance Office part time amongst other little jobs for UITS. [Read more about Devich in “The mayors of Ghost Town.”] 

Getting to know Katherine and seeing her extreme hard work and dedication to Middle Way House and how she personally delivers groceries to house-bound people has been an inspiration to me and is without doubt one of the reasons I started WARMTH.