Walking Through Samaria with Bob Dalton
Meet Bob Dalton. He’s the founder of Sackcloth & Ashes, a mission-driven company that donates a blanket to a local homeless shelter for each one purchased. It’s an admittedly “insanely ironic” place for him to find himself because he used to perpetuate the stigma of homelessness. He was the guy who would drive past a homeless person and mutter, “Go get a job” under his breath.
That changed when his mother, a waitress with two college degrees and a healthy work ethic, spiraled into homelessness on the streets of Florida in 2013, after leaving Oregon and trying to restart her life after the deaths of her mother and brother.
Her plight inspired him to call his local homeless shelters and simply ask what they needed most. All said blankets. That also became the impetus behind his Blanket the United States campaign, which has a goal of donating 1 million blankets to homeless shelters by 2024. He even tried to make blankets himself when he read the words “what are you waiting for?” on the sleeve of a coffee cup.
“What coffee company puts quotes on a sleeve?” he says. “That was my first thought. And then my second thought was, ‘I’m going to do this.’ … I’m just going to go buy some fabric and a sewing machine and I tried to learn how to sew. And I realized really quickly that I’m horrible at sewing. That was my first obstacle. I had two choices at that moment: I can either quit or I can find somebody who can sew. And I found a sweet old lady named Tammy and Tammy started sewing blankets for me.”
Dalton didn’t want to start just another one-for-one business but wanted something that would make Sackcloth & Ashes, clothing symbolic of mourning and repentance in the Bible, stand out. He asked himself, “How can I innovate, how can I evolve, how can I reimagine it to make it unique?”
The company’s hyper-local emphasis, something that could allow concerned people to benefit their own communities, seemed to work best. “The local component sets us apart,” Dalton says. So, when a person purchases a blanket, the company donates a blanket to a homeless shelter in that person’s community.
Dalton says anybody following his example shouldn’t do so out of guilt. If they can meet a need, they should simply do so. “However, 90 percent of the time, most of the time, you don’t have the ability to meet every need, but you do have the ability to be a bridge-builder and you have the ability to connect somebody who can meet a need with the person that has the need,” he says. “Most of my work is bridge-building.”