Hooray! It is one of my favorite days of the year! Blessing Bag day. When my middle son, Elliott, was five years old, he had to choose a mitzvah project for his preschool class (a mitzvah is a good deed). Since he was three years old, he has been interested in homelessness and how he can help. He wanted to make bags of snacks and toiletries that we could give to homeless people in the city. We discussed what would be helpful items and started a family tradition of making Blessing Bags.
The Blessing Bags have been a remarkable opportunity for our family to not only do something good for others, but to have open discussions with our children (now 11, 9, and 6 years old) about difficult topics like mental illness, institutionalized racism, and PTSD. We have had numerous discussions about humanity, kindness, and privilege. asked them what it would feel like to have hundreds of people walk past you everyday, refusing to even make eye contact – unwilling to recognize that they have just walked past a human being. For me, the most important lesson my children can learn is:
ALL HUMANS DESERVE TO BE TREATED WITH KINDNESS.
Another beautiful outcome of handing out the bags has been for all of us to experience the sincere gratitude and selflessness of the people who take a bag. There is always a thank you, usually a G-d bless you, and often times, someone will look in the bag and point out what he or she really needed. A man told me how desperately he needed new socks; another man, with a beard, mouthed, “thank you” as he clutched the razor in his hand. When I have approached two people together, often they ask for one bag and say to share the rest with others. There is a community of people living on the street who are kind and grateful, whom most of us walk past, gaze down, to avoid the guilt or the fear or the unknown.
Over the past few years, the bags have evolved and today we included the following:
TOILETRIES: 1 pair of Socks, Soap, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, 6 Band-Aids, Chapstick, Hand Sanitizer, Razor, Shaving Cream, 3 Maxi-Pads, travel-size pack of Kleenex, Deodorant
SNACKS: 2 Protein bars, 3 Chewy Granola Bars, Cheesy Crackers, Beef Jerky Sticks, Tuna with Crackers
We take the children to the Dollar Store, Target, and Costco, and each get assigned items to put in their cart or basket. We agree on how many bags we are going to make, so they can count accordingly (bonus math lesson when items come grouped in packages that may not equal how many bags we are making…think of the hot dog and bun debacle in Father of the Bride…I digress). We create an assembly line at home, so the kids can easily make the bags on their own.
My husband and I keep bags in our cars for when we drive to the city. There are often homeless people at the exit ramps when you get off the highway. If we go to the theater or dinner downtown, we bring a couple bags with us when we are walking to our destination. Every week when I am downtown for my acting class, I take several bags with me, as there are usually many homeless people on my walk from the parking structure to the acting school. In one instance, I handed out a bag and did not move from my spot because five other people came up to me and very politely asked for a bag. If I give out bags when the kids are not with me, they want to know who got the bags and what they said. They are often the ones who remind me to grab a bag on the way out the door.
We work hard to raise our children to be kind and giving people. We live in a community where privilege and entitlement abound and it can be hard to stay grounded. I am eternally grateful that Elliott had this idea when he was so young because it continues to keep our family focused on what really matters: kindness, giving, gratitude, human connection, and love.