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'Sleeping bags for the Homeless' collecting for those in need

Project organized through Vilna Off-Campus Achievement Academy will benefit homeless population in downtown Edmonton
Sleeping bags and other gear is being collected by the Sleeping bag for the Homeless project, based out of the Vilna Off-Campus Achievement Academy. File photo.
ST. PAUL - For the sixth year, a project that supports the homeless in Edmonton is looking to the community for support for its worthy cause. The 'Sleeping bags for the Homeless' project collects sleeping bags and other items for the homeless population in the city's downtown.
The project is organized by Nav Atwal through the Vilna Off-Campus Achievement Academy. The collected items are distributed directly to people in need. Over the past five years, 136 sleeping bags have been donated to the project, along with about two pick-up truck boxes full of winter clothing items.
Atwal says heading in to this season, he was concerned he would not be able to carry out the project due to the many restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When I sent an email to the Hope Mission, inquiring whether I was able to proceed with the project I was filled with anxiety waiting for a reply. I was extremely pleased when the executive director responded with a heartfelt thank-you," said Atwal. The response also noted that projects like Sleeping Bags for the Homeless are needed now, more than ever. 
Of course, Atwal says he felt sadness knowing there are many people who are suffering, but he was also relieved knowing there would be an opportunity to help.
"It often occurs to me that these charitable endeavors don’t really solve the issues of the homelessness, or for that matter even make a lasting difference in the lives of these less fortunate souls, but I try to remember the looks on their faces, the myriad of hugs I receive and of course the many words ofgratitude that are offered which invariably serve to remind me why I do this year after year," said Atwal.
Atwal shared an experience that occurred two seasons ago, when he was passing out sleeping bags at Hope Mission. One recipient was in a wheelchair, and was obviously struggling. Atwal says he put the sleeping bag in the man's lap, received a big smile in return, and Atwal told the man he was sorry there wasn't more he could do to help.

"He looked up at me again, and his exact words were, 'You are giving me hope brother.' At that point, my eyes welled up with tears and I turned away from him because I was simply a mess," says Atwal.

"I realize that we’re not fixing the problem, so to speak, but the love that we provide to the less fortunate offers them something in abundance, something they often don’t have a lot of, and that is hope."

Atwal offered a thank-you to those who have supported his project in the past, and those who continue to support the project.

Anyone interested in donating to 'Sleeping bags for the Homeless' can send donations by cheque, made out to Vilna School, to: Vilna School, Box 190, Vilna, Alberta T0A 3L0.

If a person wants to donate another way, or arrange for pick-up or delivery of items, they can contact Atwal directly by phone at (780) 636-3062 or (780) 614-1657, or by email at [email protected] before Dec. 15.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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