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Group Gives Out Bad-Weather Gear to Homeless

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Betty Jorgensen doesn’t want anyone in Ventura County to be cold this winter.

“I don’t care what race, creed or religion or whatever,” said Jorgensen, founder and president of a nonprofit group called Operation Warm-Up in Camarillo.

With most estimates citing at least 2,000 homeless people in the county, Jorgensen is certain that she has a large number of people to keep warm.

Jorgensen began distributing 1,000 sleeping bags, 800 blankets, 200 backpacks and 500 rain ponchos to area social service agencies on Nov. 6--the third year she has distributed cold weather gear to the poor.

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Groups that include the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Zoe Christian Center, Candelaria American Indian Council, Project Understanding, Turning Point and Primary Purpose have all picked up the warm-up items.

The agencies, in turn, have been handing out the items to those who can’t afford to buy their own. And some of them have been coming back to Jorgensen for more.

So far, Operation Warm-Up, based in a warehouse at 126 Wood Road, has given out 253 blankets, 425 sleeping bags, 136 backpacks and 301 rain ponchos. Jorgensen hopes to continue distributing the items every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon until April.

“I think they’ll last,” she said.

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The Food Bank of Ventura County donated the 800 blankets to the program. The other items were purchased with money raised by Operation Warm-Up, whose fund-raising efforts are continuing.

Jorgensen said 80% of the money that her group raises goes to the homeless, and the rest toward rent and supplies.

Kim Gilson, day manager of Miracle House in Ventura, recently picked up 18 sleeping bags to give to the low-income women in her drug- and alcohol-recovery program as Christmas gifts.

“It tremendously helps the women,” she said of Jorgensen’s group. “We give it to them like a nice present, and when they leave, they’ve got something to take with them. . . . I went through it, so I know where they’re coming from.”

Zoe Christian Center, a homeless shelter in Oxnard that can accommodate 200 people, plans to pick up a good-sized supply of the warm-ups Wednesday: 50 sleeping bags, 50 blankets, 15 rain ponchos and 10 backpacks.

Assistant office manager Cindy Henson called the Warm-Up effort a blessing.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “We have blankets and bed linens and warm things for people, but it is hard to keep enough on hand.”

Operation Warm-Up was born three years ago, when Jorgensen was inspired to collect money and hand out 550 sleeping bags from her Camarillo garage.

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“I really felt it was a very cold year,” she said.

The homeless people she fed at the Family to Family hot meals program “were actually crying and weeping and wondering how they were going to keep warm. . . . I thought it was shameful, utterly shameful that people would be cold in our country.”

This year, the biggest year so far, Jorgensen raised $22,000 to buy the sleeping bags and other items.

With a new chapter in the San Fernando Valley, she hopes to make Operation Warm-Up a national organization.

“We need donations,” she said, citing the need for a fax machine and a computer. The number for Operation Warm-Up is 482-6677.


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