Making sleeping bags for the homeless

Priscilla George and Sandy Naude add plastic to their bag.

The Good Night and God Bless Sleeping Bags were invented by Jo Maxwell 14 years ago. Made out of newspaper, recycled plastic and packaging tape, the bags are intended to help the homeless stay warm and dry during the winter.

“The guys that I’ve spoken to with their sleeping bags say they wouldn’t have survived winter without them,” Ms Maxwell said.

Cape Community Newspapers editor, Chantel Erfort, said using newspapers to make sleeping bags was a change for the newspaper staff.

“It’s kind of ironic for us. We work producing newspapers every single day, writing stories for them, so it’s interesting to see it being used in a different way.”

At 200 newspaper pages per bag, Ms Maxwell said newspaper donations from the media had helped create more bags. The plastic and tape, which cost about R16 a bag, are funded by the Rotary Club of Claremont. Ms Maxwell said although the Rotary Club sponsored about 4 000 bags a year, more were needed.

“I’m down to 100 bags. They’ve just walked out of my garage at a rate of knots, and now I’m pretty desperate.”

Ms Maxwell said more publicity could help to grow the project. With more funding, Ms Maxwell said she would like to add a blanket, a beanie, and a scarf to the
bag.

“You can buy fleece by the metre, just roughly sew them up around the sides, and add that to it. It makes such a difference. Just from a comfort point of view.”

Priscilla George, chairwoman of the NPO Small Beginnings, said the bag could be useful for more than just keeping warm.

“You can put your shoes in the bag, and you can put your possessions in the bag for the night. It would secure whatever possessions you have, because we have heard that vagrants or homeless people’s things have been stolen in their sleep.”

Ms George contacted Ms Maxwell when she heard about another branch of her church, the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, making them as part of their social-development programme.

“It’s been so cold right now, and I just thought this would be a good time to do it. I emailed and immediately Jo Maxwell responded, and she said to me, she gets the bags, and she gets the elastic bands, and she gets the tape for us, and she can supply us with whatever we need.”

Ms Maxwell said the project had taken off due to word of mouth.

Those interested in making the bags can find an instructional video online.

“Look at the video, then say to me, ‘Jo, I’d love for you to come and show us,’” Ms Maxwell said.

Since Ms Maxwell provides the recycled plastic bags and tape, interested parties can participate in the project at no cost.

“All they have to do is find the newspaper, and we know where to get them now. The media people, the printers, the newspaper printers, have been unbelievably generous.”

Ms Erfort said Cape Community Newspapers’s Mandela Day initiative was important for reporters to connect with the community.

“As journalists, I think it’s pretty easy for us to become disconnected from real life and from some of the difficulties that people face in real life, so the Mandela Day initiative has really helped us to get in touch.”