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Try this simple way to help homeless people this winter



Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/25/21

Here's how to put together gift bags to give to people experiencing homelessness that you meet in your area. 

Are there a lot of people experiencing homelessness in your city? I live in a major metropolitan area, so I come across people in this situation often when I’m out walking or driving. For years, I’ve wanted to find a way to offer help, but haven’t been sure of a good approach. 

As a Christian, I seek to serve people in need as I would serve Christ: Christ told his followers, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Solidarity with the marginalized is a central part of Catholic Social Teaching. Pope Francis reminds us

Openness to God makes us open towards the marginalized of this world and gives us the courage to leave the confines of our own security and comfort to become bruised, hurting and dirty as we joyfully approach the suffering other in a spirit of solidarity. 

But in practice, it’s hard to know how to help. Like so many of us who want to serve, my situation is complicated: I’m a homeschooling mom to a bunch of little kids, so even something as simple as volunteering at a soup kitchen requires intense coordination and finding child care.

I know I could simply donate to a homeless shelter, and that’s certainly to be encouraged. But that remote act isn’t obvious to the real, living person right in front of me. 

Pope Benedict described it perfectly when he said, “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”

It’s that “look of love,” that Christlike act of friendship and solidarity, that I wanted to find a way to give. But how?

After doing some research, I came up with a plan. I rallied a group of friends to make gift bags or “blessing bags” to give to people experiencing homelessness that we encounter. 

Now, let me be clear: I’m not an expert on this topic. This is what I came up with after some thought and prayer, but I bet there are other great ways to help. If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Here’s what I did.

1Assign everyone to bring an item

I sent around a list of ideas for helpful items to give to people experiencing homelessness. I referred to this list, this list, and this one. My friends each chose one bigger item or a few smaller things to bring.

Most of these lists recommend the following items:

  • Gloves
  • Socks 
  • Toiletries 
  • Bandaids 
  • Deodorant 
  • EmergenC or Airborne
  • Chewable multivitamins 
  • Lip balm/chapstick 
  • Unscented lotion 
  • Sunscreen 
  • Tissues 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste 
  • Wet wipes
  • Soft, non-perishable food items 
  • Water 

It goes without saying, but everything should be new in packaging and individually wrapped.

2Assemble gift bags

I bought jumbo-sized Ziploc bags and filled them with one of each item we’d compiled. We also had our kids make cards to include in each bag.

Each bag included at least one of the following: 

  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Tuna and crackers packs
  • Soft baked granola bars
  • Unscented travel-size lotion
  • Unscented baby wipes
  • A roll of toilet paper (individually wrapped)
  • A handmade card that said “You are loved!”

Now we are keeping these gift bags in our cars, so we have a small gift to give when we meet people experiencing homelessness. It’s a gift we can give with a smile, a kind word, and simple human solidarity. We hope it will brighten their day and bring a little hope and happiness.

If you’d like to find a simple way to serve this holiday season, give it a try. It does take some coordination to put these gift bags together, but the effort is so very worthwhile.

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