Seeing and acknowledging is one of the most impactful actions we can take when we encounter someone who is unsheltered, struggling, or alone. Most of the time they are ignored, or even avoided. Slowing down and recognizing the humanity of our neighbors is, on its own, a radical gesture. Taking a moment to introduce yourself, ask their name, and wishing them well can give a sense of connection to community and hope. And, for those of us who like to do something tangible, Blessing Bags are one way to take the next step.
"The opposite of loving your neighbor isn't hating them, it's being indifferent to them." - Jim Wallis
Blessing Bags (also called Care Kits) are bags that contain necessities, toiletries, food, and some extras that you can keep with you to hand out when you come across an individual grappling with poverty. This is a concrete way to help when you feel the desire to do something, but don’t know what that looks like. These kits can help meet their immediate needs, as well as showing that they are seen and they are worthy.
Assembling Blessing Bags can be a fun group activity with friends or family too. It’s a perfect opportunity to discuss local issues pertaining to poverty and justice, and also an excellent way to involve kids and demonstrate generosity.
To learn more about the items to include in the bags, see below, and download this handy, printable checklist. Be aware of a few items to avoid too - perishable or expired food, sharp items, cans without pop-tops (unless you want to include these cool can openers), and anything you would not use yourself like broken or worn out items.
A word about the actual giving of Blessing Bags -
Always put safety first. Do not approach someone if you feel uncomfortable or threatened. If you are on foot, it might be good to have a friend with you.
Dignity is a close second. Do not throw bags out the window of your vehicle. Ask if they would like one. Maybe say something like, “Hi, my name is —--, would you like a bag with food and supplies?” Be polite and friendly, and wish them well.
WHAT GOES IN THE BLESSING BAGS?
To start, a gallon-size Ziploc bag is a perfect way to hold everything together, and when they are done, the bags can be repurposed. Often included would be a small bottle of water, some hand sanitizer, a couple Band-Aids, and maybe some quarters for laundry.
The goal here is to include items that are desirable, tasty, non-perishable, and won’t melt in your car or out in the sun. Some favorites are beef jerky, tuna & cracker combos, Vienna sausages, granola bars, fruit cups, gum or mints, packs of nuts and maybe a Twinkie. Make sure everything is able to be easily opened and consumed. Avoid foods that are extra chewy or extra hard, to avoid issues for those with dental challenges. Since water is included and usually able to be found, a thoughtful addition is drink powders or concentrates like this coffee, tea, or punch.
Toiletries and Personal Items
Much what you would expect, things that are handy include deodorant, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and so on. Travel size items work great, and many can be found in bulk online, or affordably at dollar stores. You may consider creating some bags that include feminine hygiene products. To be safe, anything that is strongly scented or could possibly leak should be packed in a smaller, separate bag inside the main bag. No one wants food that tastes like soap. Well, except cilantro.
Ok, so you want to go the extra mile. You could add a pair of socks or a washcloth. Reusable cutlery like these sweet sporks. Gift cards in small denominations to readily accessible restaurants and grocery stores. Information on local resources, like this [printable card] for Seminole County. You can include seasonal items for hot or cold weather, like gloves and sunscreen. And perhaps most importantly, you can include a note of encouragement, like [these] that we created. You can print them out (on card stock if you are fancy) and add a personal note on the back.