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South County Rotary collects sleeping bags for the houseless

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The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach and Five Cities is hosting its first ever sleeping bag drive this month, an effort to help those in the local homeless community who might be wary of staying in congregate shelters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We just are very touched by that," Rotary Club co-secretary Margie Salame told New Times. "It's a massive problem."

PROVIDING WARMTH Pismo Beach-Five Cities Rotary Club members Margie Salame, Sally King, and Sharon Ellis (left to right) are helping collect new and gently used sleeping bags that will be distributed to those experiencing homelessness. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARGIE SALAME
  • Photo Courtesy Of Margie Salame
  • PROVIDING WARMTH Pismo Beach-Five Cities Rotary Club members Margie Salame, Sally King, and Sharon Ellis (left to right) are helping collect new and gently used sleeping bags that will be distributed to those experiencing homelessness.

The Pismo Beach-Five Cities Rotary Club regularly hosts philanthropic fundraisers and supply drives. In the past, Salame said the group collected yarn and fabric for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office and food and paper bags for a pantry at the Oceano Family Resource Center. But recently, Salame said, the group decided to direct its focus toward addressing homelessness, which has become increasingly visible since the onset of the pandemic due to lost jobs, lacking housing, mental illness and addiction, and domestic violence.

Coronavirus-related capacity restrictions and COVID-19 outbreaks in homeless shelters locally and across the state have also made it increasingly challenging for individuals experiencing homelessness to find a warm place to sleep.

"The ones who have to be outdoors—it's so cold," Salame said.

Salame and other members of the Rotary Club had heard about sleeping bag drives in other cities and thought it sounded like a simple but effective way to help out. Launched on Feb. 22, the drive will run through March 15, and the group is accepting new or gently used sleeping bags at four locations in South County. Those donations will then be distributed to the local homeless population by the Salvation Army of Arroyo Grande and 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, Salame said.

The project goes hand in hand with a Rotary Club drive in November 2020, when the organization collected around 450 coats and socks for the 5Cities Homeless Coalition to distribute among its clients.

"Our club has such a can-do attitude," Salame said. "I love it."

Grace McIntosh is deputy director of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, an organization that runs the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center. She said that while the county's homeless shelters are slowly opening up more beds, COVID-19 capacity restrictions are still in place. While 40 Prado would normally have around 100 overnight beds available, it's currently capped at 80.

SLO County has at least five emergency warming centers, which generally open overnight during winter months if rain is predicted or temperatures hit 40 degrees or below. McIntosh said the warming centers operated by 40 Prado and 5Cities Homeless Coalition have opened 14 nights so far this winter. Beds are available at the 40 Prado Homeless Shelter, McIntosh said, but many in the homeless community are hesitant to enter congregate living facilities right now. For several weeks in December and January, 40 Prado was closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Those interested in donating sleeping bags can contact Salame at (805) 931-4229 with questions. Donations can be dropped off between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic at 990 Price St. in Pismo Beach; 241 Elaine Way, Pismo Beach; 293 Miller Way, Arroyo Grande; Astro Financial and Insurance Services at 136 Bridge St., suite A, Arroyo Grande; or 1655 Waterview Place, Nipomo. Δ

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