Kamala Brown-Sparks experienced homelessness in Bloomington as a teen.
Thirty years later, she launched Blackhippiechick’s Blankets for B-Town to provide warmth to the local unhoused community with her crocheted blankets.
After starting the Facebook page Feb. 19, it has grown to almost 200 followers and is receiving more crochet supplies than Brown-Sparks ever expected. She said she created the Facebook page to ask close friends for yarn donations. She said she planned to crochet blankets and donate them to Bloomington Homeless Coalition.
Brown-Sparks said her experiences as an unhoused teen motivated her to help others. Living in Bloomington her whole life, Brown-Sparks said she cares deeply about the community and is worried about people without permanent residence during this cold and snowy winter.
“I’ve slept downtown on a bench in People's Park before. It was in the middle of the summer time, even then, it was chilly,” Brown-Sparks said. “I know that there's a lot of need for these blankets.”
Brown-Sparks said she tried to think of ways she could help from the safety of her home.
Brown-Sparks was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, a rare autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis. Brown-Sparks said she is blind in her left eye and has difficulty moving. She said she has only left her home 10 times in the past year — nine times for health issues, and once to vote.
Making a blanket for herself was Brown-Sparks’ New Year’s resolution, she said, but crocheting quickly became a way for Brown-Sparks to make a difference while staying home.
“I feel like this has changed my life. I’m really excited to be able to help people again,” Brown-Sparks said.
Blackhippiechick’s Blankets for B-Town grew so quickly that Brown-Sparks said she is organizing a yarn checkout system. People who crochet can come pick up yarn from her house, make blankets and return them to her for delivery to Bloomington Homeless Coalition.
“In Bloomington, there are committed people that do care about the homeless,” Brown-Sparks said. “We’ve said that we're here to put our money and our time where our mouths are.”
Many of Brown-Sparks’ first supporters were her lifelong friends. Sarah Sater and Michelle Grissom, who both grew up in Bloomington and became friends with Brown-Sparks at a young age, were some of the first to donate yarn.
“I think initially, before too many people knew about it, they joined because they know Kammy and her magnetic personality,” Sater said. “They have respect for what she's doing.”
Having lived in Bloomington almost her entire life, Grissom said she felt passionate about how the city treats unhoused people.
“I don't feel that the city of Bloomington is treating our homeless community very fairly at all,” Grissom said. “People are people, they're not just something to be ignored.”
In addition to providing warmth, Brown-Sparks said she wants the blankets to symbolize hope for people experiencing homelessness. All of the blankets will be rainbow colored, Brown-Sparks said.
“Rainbow is my favorite color and I think that rainbows signifies hope. When I was in the hospital, I always had to have a lot of bright things to keep me going,” Brown-Sparks said. “I wanted to be able to give that brightness to other people too.”
Above all else, Brown-Sparks said she wants her blankets to show the unhoused community that they are loved.
“I know what it's like for people to feel like there isn't anybody that loves them,” Brown-Sparks said. “So by making these blankets, I want the people of Bloomington to feel like there's somebody that cares about them, always.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Sarah Sater's name.