Service Project: Make a Bag to Help the Homeless

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Blessing Bags: Gifts for the Needy

Does your town have a population of homeless people in need?. Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Does your group or coven ever consider doing a service project to help others? Each year during the Yule season, my group adopts a needy family – we collect all kinds of things to help them out. We’ve given new clothes, diaper packs, toys and games for kids, grocery store gift cards, you name it. And each year, this simple contribution makes a huge difference in the lives of one family in our community. This year, however, my group has grown in size, which means there are more of us involved, and so I started thinking about ways we could help more than just one family, but still not break the bank accounts of any of us during the holiday season.

Where I live, we have a fairly large population of homeless people. Now, being homeless has got to be hard – but imagine how hard it gets during the winter, when temperatures in our area get way below freezing. In fact, in February 2014, we had several days that were below zero. It was brutal - and I live in a house with heating and a fireplace, and a warm bed and blankets.

I’ve stumbled across what I think is a really nifty idea, after watching a video about a young man who got together with friends and put together something really cool. A local church group near me has taken this idea and run with it, so I thought this was a service project that my own group could do, although on a slightly smaller scale. Imagine being a homeless person, and having someone just walk up to you and hand you a backpack full of things that could help you.

The church group that does these locally calls their project Blessing Bags, but you can call them anything you like. I sort of like the idea of a bag full of blessings, myself, whether they come from a Christian church or a group of friendly Pagans.

So what we’re doing is this. There are ten people in my group, myself included. Each of us will be responsible for bringing ten of one item that might be helpful to someone living on the streets. Then, each of us will fill a backpack with one each of the ten items we’ve collected. Once the backpacks are filled, we’ll each keep one in our car. When you see that person standing at the intersection with a sign that says “Need Help,” you know you’ve found someone to gift with your backpack. That’s it. It’s pretty simple, and it’s not expensive when you have several people contributing.

I went ahead and built a bag in advance, because I had a little extra cash, and I wanted to see what kinds of things we could donate. This is where dollar stores and other discount retailers really can be your friend. See the next page for my list of what I’m using.

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Fill A Bag to Help the Homeless

For about $25, you can fill a bag with items to help the homeless. Image by Patti Wigington, 2014

Here’s my list of what I put into the bag I assembled - call it a Blessing Bag, or anything else you like:

Backpack: Each person should plan on bringing a backpack in good condition to fill. Many of us have backpacks in usable condition lying somewhere around the house being ignored – if it’s clean, sturdy and doesn’t have any tears, go ahead and use it. Buying them new can be expensive, so if you don't have a spare one you're not using, check the thrift stores. Also, try to avoid those nylon drawstring bags. While they’re inexpensive, they also don’t hold a lot, they tend to tear easily, and they’re not going to keep anything dry for long.

Travel-size personal hygiene items: toothpaste, cotton swabs, a three-pack of Kleenex, Gold Bond powder (which is good for foot care), deodorant, a bar of soap and a plastic box to keep it in, and shampoo, all at .97 each, and a toothbrush for $1.50, for a total of $9.27.

Cold-weather stuff: a knit cap and a two-pack of knit gloves at $1.50 each, two packs of hand-warmers (found in the hunting and outdoors department) for .74 apiece, a six-pack of crew socks for $5.00, a rain poncho that cost $3.97, and an emergency blanket (also from the hunting department) for $2.97. These came to a total of $16.42.

Finally, a friend who’s into extreme couponing donated a package of wet-wipes, so those cost me nothing.

This means that for $25.68 – not including the backpack – you can make a difference in someone’s life this winter.

Do you have ten friends that you normally swap Yule gifts with each year? This year, instead of buying each other presents, why not take the money you would have spent on gifts and put it towards helping a total stranger? You never know who that person might be, or why they might need it, but you could change their life for the cost of a couple of large pizzas. Consider hosting a get-together to fill a few bags – and you may even want to ask other people to help out by donating. Would your local dentist contribute toothpaste or toothbrushes? Do you have a pal who loves to knit who could make a few hats? Maybe you have a friend like mine who gets a ton of great stuff at discounted prices because of their mad coupon-clipping skills?

Once you’ve filled your bags, before you take them with you to distribute, you may want to do a simple elemental ritual to bless the donations and contributions.

After I’ve given away my bag, I’ll come back here and update this article, and let you know what happened. I hate that there are so many needy people in my community, but if I can help at least one of them, then that’s indeed something of value.