The December chill that proved frigidly fatal to several homeless people in the Bay Area also has spurred a team of students at UC Berkeley and San Jose State into action. They helped launched the Sleeping Bag Drive—which on Friday will begin distributing 300 pairs of wool socks, beanies, and zero-degree sleeping bags to the vulnerable communities.
“It’s a scary thing that people are dying,” says Taliah Mirmalek, a Cal senior majoring in political science and rhetoric. “We were just happy to be able to share the opportunity to do something about it.”
Mirmalek, who has been active on campus with Students for Justice in Palestine, credits the origins of the sleeping bag drive to a shared Islamic commitment to helping the poor: “The two highest merits of a believer are God and helping others—the two can’t be separated.” But she adds that the project has transcended its origins as well. “We all come at it with different motivations—be it religious or secular—but when it comes down to it, this is a problem that almost every community is touched by.”
Overshooting its initial goal of raising $2,500 in a week, the campaign collected more than $10,000 in seven days. “It’s insane,” says Mirmalek. “We had no idea this would happen.” Shortly after reading about four people who died of exposure on the streets of San Jose, she received a phone call from a friend and fellow Cal student asking if she had heard the news. They conceived of the project—a noble endeavor to take on in the midst of finals—and were joined by fellow organizers Bijan Bahmani and Shabnam Sharifi, students at San Jose State.
Now the team’s goal is to make sure the supplies are distributed effectively and courteously. “We don’t want to waltz into someone else’s home,” says Mirmalek. They are collaborating with community outreach workers at shelters in Richmond and San Jose to determine where they should go to reach the people most in need, and how to do so sensitively.
In a Facebook page devoted to the effort, she has posted, “Let the success of this drive be a testament to what a community can accomplish when united by a universal vision to help those in need.”