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I once had coffee with a homeless man.
It wasn’t planned or anything. It just happened when he sat uncomfortably close to me at a Starbucks in Chicago. Here I was sitting in Starbucks with my caramel mocha, Bible open having a quiet time, belly full from breakfast and blatantly ignoring the homeless man right next to me. After a mental battle of how to respond to his invasion of my bubble, I figured Jesus wouldn’t ignore this man so I shouldn’t either. I looked up, asked him his name, and started talking to him.
Two hours later we parted ways. I left that conversation with an entirely new perspective of the homeless. This was years ago but two things have really stuck with me:
1) One of the hardest things about being homeless and on the streets is not being acknowledged. As someone in need, it is worse when people simply ignore you and pretend you don’t exist rather than simply being blatantly rejected. He told me he’d rather someone make eye contact and reject his request for money or food than to simply pretend he doesn’t exist.
2) When I asked him what were the most helpful things someone could GIVE him he told me: 1) A night in a hotel. It gives a person a chance to shower, shave, sleep in a bed, and feel like a human. 2) Water and socks. Water made sense to me but socks? When I asked him to explain he told me how a lot of his time is spent walking. If he doesn’t have socks or they are worn down too thin, he would get blisters quickly. Not good for a person dependent on walking with no first aid kit.
Fast forward five years.
I am driving my warm minivan away from the mall on a very cold evening. I pull up to a stoplight and find myself practically face to face with a cold man standing on the corner with a sad sign asking for food. My mind is driven back to my morning with my homeless friend, and I am struck at what little I have actually done since that conversation.
I’m fully aware that I can’t fix the problem of homelessness, but I shouldn’t allow the feeling of helplessness to keep me from doing something, anything for the people I come in contact with.
This is where the idea hits me: what if I were to always keep a bag of goodies in my car specifically ready to hand out to homeless?
So, instead of just thinking about the idea and talking about it, I DID it.
*Update* Recently, a production company, Foreground Productions made a three minute video documenting my story and the idea of making homeless bags. Here is a short video sharing my story.
I went to the dollar store and $30 later, I had enough stuff to make six goodie bags for the homeless. You can be sure the bag includes socks and water too 🙂
Here is what I stashed this round of bags with:
- A bottle of water
- A pair of socks
- Trail Mix
- A toothbrush
I made up six bags of these items and put three in my car and three in my husband’s car. One is currently underneath my seat so I can easily grab it while driving. The other two are in the back of my car so I can easily re-stash when necessary.
If you have kids, this could be an awesome way to teach about caring for the poor and thinking about what their needs may be. It would also be fun to involve them in stuffing the bags and giving them away. My daughter is too young for this right now, but I hope we are still giving our On-the-Go bags away when she’s old enough to comprehend what we are doing.
I’ve had these bags in my car for a few weeks now and had the opportunity to give one away the other day. I hope and pray it helped him in some way. If anything it communicated, “I see you. I care for you,” which according to my Starbucks friend, is one of the best things we can do for the homeless.