Giving quilts to those in need, knowing what a difference a little warmth can make in a person’s life, is the driving force behind North Long Beach-based Wrap the Kids: The Homeless Making a Difference.
Founder and CEO Susanna Twaite, 60, who has been homeless herself, intermittently, for about two decades, organizes a patchwork of homeless volunteers to sew blankets to give to others, especially sick and needy children. Since the official nonprofit got its start back in 2015, they’ve given away more than 100 hand-sewn quilts.
“I learned how to sew in high school, and I love making quilts and giving them away,” Twaite said about the earliest origins of Wrap the Kids.
The high school graduate maintained her passion for quilting throughout her life, despite a series of personal setbacks — including a stint in jail for marijuana-related charges that ended in 2012.
“I couldn’t get a job,” she said. “My roommate got me a sewing machine, and I started making and selling quilts.”
Her probation officer encouraged her to set up an Etsy account for her wares, and later, a local bank teller helped Twaite realize that her concept — less about making and selling quilts than giving them away to those in need — was not as much a business as it was a charitable cause that deserved nonprofit status.
Twaite herself, a native of Long Beach, realized that she needed to think even bigger. Her idea: Gathering a group of fellow homeless people and teaching them how to make quilts, too, giving them new, useful skills and a real sense of purpose.
“Our volunteers build their self-worth,” she said. “They feel better about themselves.”
Twaite and her friends spent the first year piecing together a board of directors and registering their nonprofit with the state. Wearing their distinctive hot pink and black volunteer shirts, they have built trust in the community by continuously participating in neighborhood cleanups, tree plantings, Beach Street events, chili cook-offs at the library, playground builds and giving away Thanksgiving dinners.
Today, managing the nonprofit’s office space, Twaite expertly navigates heaps of donated fabric in the charity’s tightly packed, window-less 400-square-foot room at 297 E. Artesia Blvd., narrowly sandwiched between a nail salon and liquor store.
“It’s become a place to go — there’s a sense of community and trust here,” Twaite said, estimating there are about 300 signatures from mostly homeless people who stop by each month. Some are volunteers and some are there to ask for help.
Going beyond making blankets, Wrap the Kids has evolved into a resource for the homeless that helps connect them with city and other resources. Twaite said sometimes it’s simply about lending an ear and offering someone a glass of water, but the organization also gives out clothing and hygiene items.
“The sense of community is off-the-chart,” non-homeless volunteer Cathy Barnett said, noting that some homeless people donate money from collecting recyclables to help the cause.
Barnett said she hopes others in the community find it in their hearts to contribute, noting that a vehicle and larger office space would make the biggest difference, on top of monetary donations and drop-offs of clothing and hygiene items.
But despite all the generosity garnered, Twaite emphasized that the fledgling charity continues to face challenges unique to a nonprofit run by people with nowhere to sleep at night.
“There are times I’m not sure I’ll be able to cover the rent, and the thought of losing it is ridiculous,” Twaite said about the office, crying. “It’s amazing the generosity and the money that has come in at the right moment to save it.”
Twaite even sold her own car, which she was living out of, to cover the rent, prioritizing Wrap the Kids over finding steady housing for herself. She spends most of every day at Wrap the Kids and couch surfs at night.
“These people need me, so every dollar I get I put into the shop,” she said. “I cannot let them down.”
Twaite, who has three adult children, said she recently gave a quilt to a homeless toddler who was amazed by the gift, and it was a reminder why all her sacrifices for Wrap the Kids have been worth it.
“She looked up at me and asked, ‘For me?’ (It was) like she couldn’t believe it,” Twaite said.