To kick off the summer, a group of twelve local moms from Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Apex, and Cary brought their kids to the park and packed fifty “blessing bags” for the Oak City Outreach Center located by Moore Square in Downtown Raleigh. Every weekend, the OCOC opens its doors to serve our area’s homeless population. Thanks to groups like this local moms one, in the second weekend of June, many individuals walked away with a little something extra.
Each gallon-sized bag had essentials such as a washcloth, pair of socks, cereal bar, razor, bandages, hand wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste. The group—Wake County Moms of 2013/2014 Babies—wanted to find a way to give back and demonstrate for their two- and three-year-olds how to engage with the greater community. In this case, it began with engaging with the playground, first, and then filling the bags, one by one.
Keeping service projects age appropriate is key. One of the moms shared a conversation she and her son, Liam, had in the car on the way to the event:
“Mom, can I have a bar?”
“No, Liam, those are for people in need.”
“OK Mommy, I need one.”
The moms who participated in the project were realistic about just how much their children could understand. After all, these kids spend their days at park playdates and library storytimes. But rather than forget about people whose days look a little different, or pretend they aren’t out there, parents can start the conversation early. And it doesn’t hurt to throw some playtime in there, too.
As with anything, there is some criticism with the idea of blessing bags. What we don’t want to do is pack neat little bags and hand them over just so we can feel pleased with ourselves. No, a pack of crackers and fresh toothbrush isn’t going to change someone’s life. A great way to fine tune this or any service project is to actually talk to the people you’re serving. Sure, it can be uncomfortable, but what better way to help someone than by learning their backstory. It’s not always feasible to stop and chat, but show your children that the people receiving these bags deserve kind words and eye contact. They matter.
Below, find some blessing bag ideas, including the one the Wake County moms group did, as well as some variations
Classic Blessing Bag
The moms group from this story packed the following: canned meat (for protein), pudding cup, applesauce, spoon, crackers, soft cereal bar, feminine hygiene product, lotion, tissues, washcloth, pair of socks, razor, bandages, hand wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste. Avoid hard/sticky foods, which are tough to eat if one is in need of dental care. Also steer clear of smelly soaps and lotions, which can permeate the food in the bag. Also, soap is readily available in most restrooms, so it might be a good item to forgo.
Because every child deserves a birthday, Holly Springs Food Cupboard shared this idea: pack a bag or box with everything one needs to throw a birthday bash for 6-8 people: cake mix, can of frosting, candles, plates/forks, napkins, cheap and easy decorations. By doing this, you are gifting an experience, and the opportunity for a family to make memories. How cool is that?
With a little more time and money, you can make a big impact by packing blessing backpacks. These can include essentials such as those mentioned above and other items that someone on the streets may not need, but might want, such as: a nice insulated coffee tumbler, prepaid phone card so they can connect with loved ones, restaurant gift card, cozy hat/scarf, pen and paper, stamped envelopes, and anything else you can think of. The goal is to put yourselves in their shoes and think about what you might want if you were in their situation. Better yet, talk to people you pass by on the street. That’s the best way to learn about who they are and where they’ve come from.
Oak City Outreach Center is located at 215 1/2 South Person Street in Raleigh. It’s open Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00AM-6:00PM. To learn more, visit http://www.endhomelessnesswake.org/
For volunteering information, you can call 919-812-5546 or email firstname.lastname@example.org