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Street Corner Gospels

By Matt Han


/files/chcc images 2 - about us/Unfolding/Homeless.jpgWith the chaos of the holidays behind us, it’s time again to tread into the sublime convergence of joy and stress that defines the onset of the new year.  Our requisite resolutions will undoubtedly revolve around dietary modifications, devotion to friends and family, perhaps a transition towards a new career – all signaling the beginnings of a banner 2012 brimming with positivity and optimism.

Yet despite the madness that we hear from political and financial pundits regarding “recovery” and potential outlooks for the future, the stark realities of our current economic woes remain – and nowhere is this more evident than the growing numbers of homeless walking South County streets.

A closer look at the indigent populations today reveals a very contrasting demographic than what we may have typically associated with homelessness, indiscriminate of age and former wealth.  Victims that span all grades of the socioeconomic strata are now represented, from the minimum-wage-and-worse members of the working poor to the once affluent white collar managers of the middle and upper classes.  And the understanding that none of us (despite differences in status and background) are immune to this devastating trend is essential in promoting effective change in our community.  Volunteer work at a food bank, donations to South County Outreach, Family Promise, availing ourselves to the number of altruistic programs offered through charitable institutions – there are countless ways to provide help.  

Or, take a direct and truly inspired route and heed the call of Leslie Padgett and others at Coast Hills to create “Blessing Bags.” The origins of the Blessing Bags program were rooted in the Thanksgiving spirit of 2009, as Leslie noticed the dramatic transformations caused by the recession inching closer to home.  Reflecting on the increasing presence of destitute families, she challenged herself to make a lasting and meaningful impact.  Inspired by Pastor Ken’s invitation to reach out to the needy with what he called Homeless Hospitality bags, Leslie enlisted her family to devote their Thanksgiving Day to constructing similar parcels, and the Blessing Bags tradition was born.  The premise is beautifully simple: fill as many gallon-sized Ziploc bags as you (and friends and family) can afford with items designed to aid the needy, such as warm weather clothing, toiletries, non-perishable foods, and the like; stow these bags in your vehicle and distribute to homeless families you encounter in your daily travels.  

Yet these plastic bundles are so much more than the sum of their parts.  Though a handout of a few dollars or a meal to our area’s disenfranchised is a generous act indeed, the effect is ephemeral, lasting only long enough to provide basic nourishment.  Blessing Bags, on the other hand, furnish the homeless with an intangible spiritual sustenance – letting the recipient know that they are cared for and deserving of attention.  The items in the bags themselves, including hygiene products and indigent resource pamphlets, are tailored to getting powerless families back on their feet and restoring confidence and dignity to those who are desperately in need.  Blessing Bags can also include notes to lift spirits, whether they be unaffected gestures of sympathy or your favorite passages of scripture.  In all, these bags provide something that is heartbreakingly lacking in today’s world – the glorious and honest bliss of human compassion.

Because, as the axiom goes, it’s one thing to be broke, but another thing to be broken, and our county’s homeless need just a little assistance putting their pieces back together.  Keep a few Blessing Bags in your trunk this year, and give someone the strength to move forward.

For more information on Blessing Bags, visit www.joyshope.com/2010/11/i-heart-big-hearts.html to read a blog post by Leslie, “Socks Are In My Cornucopia,” detailing the process and conception of the program. This post was read and passed on by several thousand across the country last year, inspiring hundreds to follow suit and assemble Blessing Bags with their own families, schools, ministries, and neighborhoods. This last year’s update can be found at www.joyshope.com/2011/11/happy-day-project-day-seven.html should you endeavor to make bags of your own.