Practical comfort delivers warmth to homeless

Jill Illidge and Lea Young work on some of the sleeping bags, which are now being distributed to the homeless and those in need. Ashley Cleaver photo.

Jill Illidge and Lea Young work on some of the sleeping bags, which are now being distributed to the homeless and those in need. Ashley Cleaver photo.

FLEECY sleeping bags created by a group of Taree residents have been well received by the homeless people they were designed for.

It all began a number of years ago when Taree clothing business Hot Tuna closed down.

One of the founders, Jo Meldrum, ended up with lots of leftover fabric, including 15 rolls (each 60 metres in length) of fleecy materials used for sweaters and tracksuit pants which, sometime later, she donated to Taree Arts Council in the hope that it might be of some use.

The theatre company's costume designer, Lea Young spoke to Jill Illidge, who has done costume work for a number of productions, and told her that if she could ever use the material that she could have it.

During one of the regular clean-ups at the TAC 'Shed', Jill and her husband Rod took the material and moved it to their shed to wait in storage for the right project to present itself.

That moment came a few years ago while the couple were on a trip to Melbourne.

"We were driving and heard on ABC radio a call by the Salvation Army for people in Melbourne attending a particular concert to buy a book and a blanket and bring them along to leave there for the homeless," said Jill.

"I thought, maybe I could make blankets and that grew into sleeping bags."

Jill located a Sydney organisation called Night Patrol, which uses a St Vinnies van to distribute food and blankets to the homeless.

After making one of the sleeping bags, it was sent to Sydney and a few homeless people were asked to try it out and give them some feedback.

"They were happy with them."

Jill rallied about 15 of her friends who were happy to come together and give her a hand to make the 75 sleeping bags.

Whether they were sewing, washing the fabric, cutting the fabric, folding or just bringing along food to share, Jill said it turned into a good catch-up and a chance to work on something together.

Forty-five of the sleeping bags were sent to Sydney to be distributed to homeless people as needed. "They take a few out each night."

The feedback, Jill said, "brings a tear to your eye".

One homeless person has said "That's the best thing I've got through the Night Patrol van ever."

"It just blows you away when you get the response."

Jill is about to follow up with the Salvation Army in Taree and has also been in contact with the local police to find out whether there was people in the Manning who could use them.

She has also provided some to the St John's Anglican Church's Blue Cross Emergency Relief.

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