- Courtesy Of Jocelyn Hebert
In October, Beth Mueller attended an event about homelessness in the Barre area.
Service providers told attendees they were worried about winter, when pandemic-strained social service groups would contend with an unprecedented number of people in need. Despite shelters and the state-run hotel program, many of them would end up sleeping in the cold.
That night, Mueller, a graphic designer, illustrator and potter, snapped into action. She emailed several sleeping bag manufacturers around the country, asking if any had spare sacks to donate.
The next morning, Mueller heard from Jerry Wigutow, founder of the Colorado-based outdoor apparel manufacturer Wiggy's. Not long afterward, three dozen sleeping bags were delivered to Mueller's door.
"I'm so used to people saying no or not answering, but for whatever reason ... we clicked and we chatted — and boom!" Mueller recalled. "He was extremely generous."
Mueller got in touch with Rick DeAngelis, co-executive director at Good Samaritan Haven, about the bags.
"She's kind of a rock star in my book," DeAngelis said of Mueller, who, for the past decade, has helped run a free community breakfast at the Church of the Good Shepherd in downtown Barre.
Now, according to DeAngelis, members of the organization's street outreach team are giving the sleeping bags away as quickly as they can. The situation is dire. In September, officials counted 86 unsheltered people in Waterbury, Montpelier, Barre and Berlin, a number DeAngelis called "astronomical." Counting those who are staying in motels or homeless shelters, the number of homeless people in Washington County jumps to 435.
DeAngelis said the crisis shows how a donation such as the sleeping bags can make a world of difference.
"It can be life-saving — and probably is in many cases," DeAngelis said. "We wish we could do better than that and that we were providing people with housing. But that's not possible. So we do the best we can."