By Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver

Susan Fischer may not be a marathon runner, but if miles could be measured by stitches made on a sewing machine, she would earn a spot on the winner’s list.

“I wonder how many miles of thread she’s used,” says Peggy Preusler, a member of Fischer’s sewing group, The Rippers.

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The group meets monthly and primarily creates projects that help those in need. Items include clothes for stillborn babies, turbans for cancer patients, and personal hygiene kits for Days for Girls. In fact, the group’s name came about while she was working on a project — ripping apart garments and remaking them with Velcro for wounded soldiers to wear.

“Everything she brings us to sew is a benefit to so many people,” says Preusler, who joined the group about eight years ago.   

Presently, the focus is on making blue jean duffel bags for homeless students in St. Johns County. There are about 700 to 800 homeless students identified yearly, and each situation is different, according to Michael Israel, St. Johns County School District Homeless Liaison. 

He says it can be challenging locating and helping these students as they often come to school well dressed and conceal their living situations. “Many are hidden in plain sight,” Israel says.

Along with Mitchell Moody, Israel works to bring about awareness in the community through the ASSIST program, working closely with guidance counselors and educating people about the homeless population.

Israel says many local residents assist with food drives, clothes collections, and other fundraising events. Fischer’s group found an important niche, as well. “They offer a unique service, and we are thankful for what they are doing,” says Israel.

The duffel bags are something sustainable that students can call their own, according to Israel. Students know the bags are “made with love by somebody who cares about them,” he explains.

The idea for the duffel bags actually came to Fischer while participating in an Angel Tree gift program at her church. The child she was to buy a gift for simply wanted a Frisbee; so, she decided to wrap it in a duffel bag as a special touch.

So far, Fischer’s group has made about 80 duffel bags for the ASSIST program, and donations are needed for them to reach their goal of 800. In addition to gently used, non-stretch jeans in adult sizes, the group is collecting eight-packs of 20 oz. Gatorade and small hygiene items, such as hotel samples to place in the pockets. Items can be dropped off at Swiss Cove Christian Church Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

To lend a hand, Israel suggests reaching out to local schools, faith-based groups, and other community organizations as a majority of volunteer activities focus on supporting students. 

Photo courtesy Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver

Susan Fischer working on a duffel bag.

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