By Rachel Brune
We’ve barely been introduced when Beth Carpenter, co-founder of local charity Scarf It Up, pulls out a large black backpack. She unbuckles the straps and shakes out a long mat that looks like it has been crocheted out of plastic.
This is a sleeping mat intended for a member of Fayetteville’s homeless community and it has indeed been handcrafted from about 300 to 310 plastic shopping bags. The thickness and the plastic are intended to keep the moisture away from someone sleeping out in the elements.
Carpenter admitted that preparing the bags for the job and crocheting them together is not exciting. In fact, “...it is the most boring thing.” However, in a city whose homeless population, including homeless families, far exceeds the shelter capacity, such a mat provides someone with a little extra help.
“We help because there’s a need,” said Carpenter, a North Carolina native who grew up in Fayetteville.
Inside each backpack, additional helpful items include a rain poncho, fleece blanket, toiletries and of course, hat, gloves and scarf as the winter weather sends outside temperatures plummeting.
More Than Scarves
Scarf It Up provides “way more than scarves,” said Lisa Hunter, Carpenter’s counterpart: a Virginia native and former Army staff sergeant who was stationed at Fort Bragg as an automated logistical specialist.
Hunter and Carpenter, now both real estate agents, spoke of driving around Fayetteville, becoming aware of the homeless population — and the lack of resources available to help.
In the first year, 2009, the organization handed out about 50 scarves along with beef jerky, hats and toiletries, all in gift bags that Hunter’s husband found.
“Some said ‘Congratulations, Graduate,’” chuckled Carpenter.
From that beginning, the women gradually expanded the help they offered, often in response to people who learned of the work they were doing and contacted them to ask for help.
In addition to the bags and backpacks, the charity hosts two cookouts a year and participates with a local church to run “Undie Sunday” events, at which they collect donations of clean underwear, a staple that many people take for granted.
For the past five years, the organization has grown and branched out, achieving official non-profit status this year. Along the way, they have held yard sales, volunteered to serve food at the local Salvation Army and even hosted an actor’s workshop at which the entry fee was a donation of canned goods.
“We’ve done a lot of crazy stuff,” Carpenter said while laughing.
A Family Legacy
When Carpenter was a teenager living in the Van Story Hills neighborhood of Fayetteville, her pastor father would invite homeless men and women over for Sunday dinner. She remembers him asking them questions about themselves — what sports teams they might follow, if they were into cars — in order to learn who they were.
As a teenager, Carpenter admitted to feeling embarrassed by her father’s actions. Later, however, she realized what he was trying to do.
“He was making them feel visible,” said Carpenter. By asking them about themselves, he was reassuring them that they counted as human beings. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
For Scarf It Up, this means that their next step is to begin developing relationships with people and organizations who can assist members of the homeless population in finding and keeping work.
“We can hand out things all day long,” said Carpenter, “but people need jobs.”
Carpenter spoke of the possibility of starting a food truck in order to be able to offer jobs in making and serving food, with the longer-term goal of opening a kitchen and offering employment on a broader basis.
As Scarf It Up has grown, more people have started reaching out to refer homeless members of the community to them for help. Carpenter said, “Everyone who comes to us is referred from another source.”
According to Hunter and Carpenter, the charity will do some research on the referrals to determine if they are able to help.
The referrals come from a number of places, said Carpenter. In one case, they reached out to help a woman who also walked to work, with the referral coming from another woman who often saw her walking and offered her a ride.
Through the referrals, Scarf It Up has already begun assisting people in this area, for example, finding a bicycle for a man who was referred to them, who had been walking daily to work — a round-trip commute of 14 miles.
How to Help
For people interested in becoming involved, Scarf It Up hosts periodic crocheting classes at Jitterbugz, a coffee shop in Spout Springs, to teach crafters how to make the scarves and sleeping mats.
For those who aren’t crafty, or may not have time, the charity accepts donations, which can be dropped off at Highland Animal Hospital, or by contacting them through their Facebook page.
In addition to donations of hats and scarves, Scarf It Up also appreciates gifts of yarn, drink mixes, seasonal items such as bug spray or ponchos, as well as gently used men’s shoes.