A little over a week ago I returned from a mission trip with our parish youth group. We traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to work with the Franciscans for the Poor. We worked at many different worksites throughout the city tending to those experiencing homelessness, poverty, and/or special needs. The trip was amazing and a wonderful reminder of not only how blessed we each are, but of how beautiful every single one of God’s children are, regardless of their circumstances and despite what our society tries to tell us.
The world likes to think that all Americans are rich and each lives a life of luxury. The truth is that on any given night 564,708 people are experiencing homelessness. Over a half a million people have no place to call home. If we are the richest and best country in the world, how can so many of our brothers and sisters be without a place to rest their heads, to take a shower, or to eat a meal?
Our Catholic faith tells us that we are to take care of these people. The Corporal Works of Mercy tell us it is our Christian duty to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to give shelter to the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; and to bury the dead.
It can be difficult to be able to take time off to visit the imprisoned or work in a soup kitchen. It is probably even harder for people to take an entire week off to travel hundreds of miles away to serve on a mission trip. While it can be challenging to figure out a way to serve, there is a very simple way that almost everyone can help those who are in need.
Blessing bags provide a simple way for us to reach out and touch the lives of those who are suffering. They allow us to connect in a way that tells those who are experiencing homelessness that we not only see them but that we value them and love them. A simple gesture, a blessing bag can provide the hope and the little bit of extra faith that those who are downtrodden need to just make it through one more day. You can easily keep them in your car to pass on to those you see in need of a little bit of help.
To make a blessing bag first collect the items you want to put in the bag. Some of the most important items that many people experiencing homelessness say they need and appreciate the most are toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and socks. These items are always needed and yet they almost never have access to them. The ability to keep clean is often overlooked and yet those who are experiencing homelessness want to keep clean every bit as much as you and I.
In our bags we also put a small snack of a juice box, crackers, and a granola bar. We included a razor, tissues, and a small amount of money.
I know. I know… you are thinking that if you put in money they might by drugs or alcohol, right? Most people who are experiencing homelessness are not addicted to drugs or alcohol. Instead, they will use this money to buy a coffee or a small hot meal. Regardless of what they spend the money on it is a gesture of love and hope to offer it to them. Please trust that your gift will be used in the manner most fitting to their circumstance.
Last, after packing your bag put a small note in to tell those you will give your blessing bag to that they are cherished and loved; that there is hope. Remind them that they can trust in Jesus and that He has not abandoned them.
A blessing bag is a small gesture of love and hope to someone who believes that the world has forgotten about them. It reminds them that despite their current circumstances they are cherished.
To many who are experiencing homelessness one of the greatest trials in their lives is the feeling that no one sees them and no one cares. Each day people pass without offering a glance or they spew hateful things at them. A blessing bag can counter the hate they experience and instead replace it with love. It can help to restore their dignity and their faith.
I have no doubt you have heard it said many times, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Do something small today and it may be the biggest thing you ever do for someone. Our tiny gestures of love have the ability to change hearts, inspire hope, and fan the flames of a dying faith. Be the blessing that someone needs today.