PAGE – Aramark donated approximately 300 sleeping bags to Page Unified School District in November, and with the arrival of cold weather they’re proving to be a very hot commodity.
More than half of them have already been given away. Some were given directly to families who requested them, and others were left with Navajo chapter house representatives to be given out later.
Page-based Wilderness River Adventures operates guided tours through the Grand Canyon from April to October, and the company provides each guest with a new sleeping bag. At the end of the river season, WRA has accumulated a large surplus of bags. Prior to delivering the bags to PUSD, Aramark washed and dried each bag.
The idea to donate sleeping bags to the school district came from Brittany Brink, human resources manager for Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas. Her husband, Josh Brink, teaches music at Desert View Intermediate school, and Brittany knew from previous involvement with the school district that it sometimes needs items such as sleeping bags, coats, and other cold-weather items.
The sleeping bags made their way to the school district’s Student Support Services, and McKinney-Vento program, a federal program that provides money and resources to youth and their families who are experiencing homelessness.
“The sleeping bags have been a very popular item with some of our families this year,” said Tashina Williams, director of PUSD’s Student Support Services. “The sleeping bags make it easy for our families to take with them if they need to. It’s often easier to use a sleeping bag rather than trying to find bedding to fit a particular bed.”
Student Support Services distributed the first round of sleeping bags as part of its Thanksgiving holiday box deliveries.
Having the sleeping bags has allowed Student Support Services to be pro-active in their efforts to help PUSD’s students and their families through the cold part of the year. “It’s much better than trying to address the situation after the fact,” Williams said. “We have been offering them to all the families we meet, and so far, none of them have declined.”
The sleeping bags have been especially popular with families who live in the Navajo Nation. This year has been a difficult one throughout the Page school district as families have dealt with the effects of the COVID-19. The Navajo Nation has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, which has left some families entering the winter months with fewer resources than they’d have during a normal year.
Many Navajo families live in remote areas and their houses aren’t connected to public utilities. They’re responsible for providing their own home-heating sources. Some heat their houses with wood stoves, some with propane.
Since the pandemic struck in March, the Navajo Nation has endured many stay-at-home orders, and numerous weekends when it was in full lockdown. At other times, family members have taken prolonged absences from work to care for family members who were ill with COVID. One of the results has been fewer hours at work, or fewer hours spent gathering wood and now many families find themselves less prepared for winter than they’d like to be. And because the families living in remote locations aren’t connected to a public utility, they can’t ask for a grace period or extension on an overdue bill. When the fuel runs out, it’s out.
“We are working with several families who are living in tents,” Williams said. “They have really appreciated receiving the sleeping bags.”
Having a room containing 150 sleeping bags gives Williams a certain level of comfort too. “It gives me peace of mind knowing we have a ready and easy solution to help families who may have to face cold days and nights this winter.”
Student Support Services expects to give out another round of sleeping bags as part of its Christmas box deliveries, and she expects they’ll continue to be popular for months to come.
“I really appreciate the donations from Aramark,” Williams said. “Finding solutions to keep families warm is a hard one. It’s hard to coordinate getting propane, or wood. A sleeping bag is an easy, ready-to-use answer to that while we figure out a more long-term solution. The sleeping bags have had a bigger impact on some of our families than I think Aramark realizes.”
“It is our pleasure to make this donation to our Lake Powell neighbors,” said Kelly Zwierzchowski, vice president of operations for Lake Powell Resorts. “Aramark has a deep respect for the Navajo Nation, and we remain committed to protecting and building the Page and Lake Powell community.”