Utah handbag designer takes on mission to help Salt Lake homeless

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SALT LAKE CITY — Young Benjamin Barton is one of 12 people who turned up for a recent sewing workshop at Anne B Designs in downtown Salt Lake City.

"I'm sewing a bag for the homeless," Benjamin told us. "I feel really bad for the homeless. I just wish sometimes I can make a change, and right now I am."

The workshop is the idea of the founder of Anne B Designs, Sarah Burroughs. She designs, produces and sells boutique handbags. Burroughs also uses Anne B as an outlet for service, from hiring refugees to teaching women in India and Africa how to sew so they can develop and sell their own products.

But recently, Burroughs has taken on a new mission that started last month when a homeless man stepped into her sewing shop.

"He asked me to make him a sleeping bag and to reinforce this hygiene bag he had already made," Burroughs said. The man had brought the necessary materials and cash to pay for his request.

"He has a job," said Burroughs. "He just was working really hard and unfortunately, he is still living on the streets." Burroughs chatted with the man as she sewed together his sleeping bag.

"Just talking to him and hearing his history," Burroughs recounted, "I felt there are more people like him in Salt Lake, and I wanted to find a way to connect my business of teaching sewing and giving to the homeless."

The way she found was through workshops where she can teach people how to sew hygiene bags and sleeping bags for the homeless. And she found sponsors, from her dentist to Wal-Mart and others, more than happy to donate the materials needed to make those bags and fill them.

"The sleeping bag material is really thick," Burroughs said. "Waterproof on the outside, fleece material on the inside and all we had to do was pay for shipping."

Burroughs also found people willing to donate time as they honed their sewing skills.

"No, I am not a sewer," Rebecca Burton told us. "I am here to support Sarah and to help this project. I think just the fact we're here, making them [hygiene bags] together, we create a community here and then give back to the broader community as well."

Each hygiene bag finished by the group gets filled with necessities.

"They'll have toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, hand sanitizers, comb, Q-tips," Burroughs said. "And I asked for specific things the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake looks for in the hygiene kits."

Everyone here might not be an expert sewer.

"Well, I don't know if Nike is going to hire me very soon," joked Burton. "I might make one for my nephew or something."

That's something Burroughs hopes her student will do — keep making bags.

"So hopefully, they'll know how to make the bags now and then they can do it on their own and teach their family and friends and hopefully continue to give," Burroughs said.

We were at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake when Burroughs arrived with the first armloads of hygiene and sleeping bags. She personally handed them out.

"We're dependent on our community supporting us," said the Rescue Mission's executive director, Chris Croswhite. "We literally could not afford to purchase the clothes, food and hygiene items that are donated to the Rescue Mission to give out to the public.

"This can be a very desperate time of year for our homeless friends," Croswhite added. "Anne B Design's gift gives them hope, lets them know the community cares about them."

"It's much more fulfilling doing these projects than just selling a bag," Burroughs told us.

"Even though I love designing and I love talking to customers and having them have a good-looking bag, I also love giving to the community. And I like how other organizations all support each other because we're all here for the same cause and I think being able to collaborate, it brings more awareness to the fact of the homeless."

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