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A pile of 100 new sleeping bags donated by the Latino Community Fund are seen Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, at Elite Academy in Yakima, Wash. Students from the Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center at Elite Academy are teaming up with the Homeless Network of Yakima County and other local organizations to gather 500 sleeping bags to distribute to those without shelter this weekend.

Several Yakima-based organizations have teamed up to collect 500 sleeping bags for those experiencing homelessness as the winter months descend.

Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center students at Elite Academy initiated the sleeping-bag drive. They’re partnering with the Homeless Network of Yakima County to distribute winter weather purchases and donations. The Latino Community Fund also pitched in, donating almost 100 sleeping bags to the effort.

Betty King, the owner of the Elite Academy cosmetology school, said the idea for the drive came to her when she noticed multiple people experiencing homelessness sheltering on the streets with cardboard.

“It was in my heart to do something,” she said. “It’s so cold already. I was worried.”

King said she went online and saw that the homeless in last year’s point-in-time count numbered more than 400 people. So she set a goal of 500 sleeping bags, in case financial repercussions from COVID-19 forces more people onto the streets.

Then she reached out to her students, who embark on a community service project each year. They embraced the idea.

“Our students are amazing,” she said. “We reached out to them, and they were excited to take this on.”

The Latino Community Fund dropped off nearly 100 sleeping bags on Thursday afternoon. King said she had been in communication with Cristina Ortega, the organization’s manager of civic engagement and advocacy, but added she never expected such a response.

“All I could do was cry. To see just an idea, a thought, coming to be,” she said. “There are so many good people in the world.”

She added the community service projects hold important lessons for her students.

“Being aware of our community and the needs that are out there, it helps them grow as people,” she said. “I think it makes them better people, and it shows that one person can make a difference.”

King said she hopes to hit the students’ goal by Thanksgiving.

“It’s going to be snowing before we know it,” she said.

Those interested in helping out can purchase a sleeping bag, gloves, or winter socks through Elite Academy’s online wish list, with purchases ranging from $8 to about $46 to accommodate all giving levels.

People with gently used sleeping bags can drop them off from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Elite Academy, 2606 West Nob Hill Blvd. in Yakima.

As a precaution against spreading COVID-19, King said the donated items will be quarantined for at least 48 hours before they are delivered to the Homeless Network for distribution to various groups serving the homeless throughout the community.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.