If you haven’t gotten your milk and bread yet, you are running out of time. With an enormous snowstorm barreling across the East Cost today and tomorrow, a State of Emergency already in place, you can rest assured there will be lots to talk about in the coming days.
Bread. Milk. Water. Check.
My social media feeds have been filled with reminders all week:
“Bring in your pets!”
“Stock up on supplies!”
“Make sure you have plenty of water if the power goes out!”
What about those who never had power to begin with?
For the past month I’ve been purchasing basic supplies in preparation for the storm. But unlike many, my supplies are not for me, but for strangers who might need them. Several friends noticed and made donations of their own and together we were able to assemble eight fully-stocked blessing bags for the homeless.
My friend, Cindy, came over this week and we sorted all the items, making sure to equally divide what we had collected into separate bags. My cousin Michele had bought thick, warm gloves and hats to go with the blankets Stacie and Suzi donated. I added spoons to the peanut butter Cindy bought (perfect for scooping out and spreading across the crackers.) Even my son got inspired, donating his own school bag and offering to help us organize. It was exciting to think that eight people would receive our surprise of blankets, hats, gloves, water, peanut butter, crackers, hand warmers and more.
I decided to add playing cards to help them pass away the boredom (thanks Deb for the idea!) and some conversation hearts to make them smile. I even threw in a few dollars and some mints that a coworker had left in my RAK jar at school (thanks Krista!)
I also added a hand written note to each bag. Everyone needs a reminder they are loved.
After packing up the bags on Monday, Cindy and I hit the streets on Wednesday to give away our surprises.
We drove towards the city, our eyes looking for people sitting on the streets or anyone looking cold or hungry. The first gentleman who caught our eye was sitting on a plastic crate near an intersection. He carried a sign describing his plight, upper-case letters scrawled across to catch our attention. Even though he was wearing a coat, hat, and gloves, something nudged us to roll down our window and hand him a bag.
So we did.
I don’t know this man and I don’t know his story. And sadly, since I was now approaching a green light at the intersection, I didn’t have time to say much more than “Stay warm for the storm. God bless.”
We drove on.
When was the last time you drove into a city and really saw how the surroundings changed before your eyes? Large two-story homes surrounded by manicured lawns gave way to ramshackle row houses with tiny front porches of rotting wood. Windows with bars. Alleys. Sidewalk cracks. Graffiti. Welcome to the city.
Homeless people often gather in Monroe Park, so we decided to head there. We parked and put all our bags in a cart, pulling across the sidewalks looking for anyone who we could bless with basic necessities.
We walked. And walked. And walked.
Unbelievably, we didn’t see a single homeless person in the park.
Maybe it was the police car cruising nearby that forced them away. Maybe it was the throngs of college kids leaving their classes at VCU that kept them hidden from sight. Perhaps, just perhaps, they had found somewhere warm to stay in this bitter cold.
We walked towards Broad Street, still searching for someone to bless. Cindy and I chatted about the irony of always seeing homeless people down this way, but not on a day when we have something to give. That’s when it stuck me – every day I have something to give, even if it’s just a smile of kindness.
I made a silent promise to do better.
At some point Cindy and I realized our attempts were futile. We had to change our game plan. Our faces and ears were already numb from the cold and we needed to head back to our car before the sky shifted to darkness. We decided to leave the bags in places that might be discovered by someone who needed it. Did it really matter who received our kindness? Maybe it wasn’t really up to us to choose the recipient. Maybe our purpose was simply to pack the bags and go.
I had my notepad of RAK cards and safety pins with us, so we attached one to each bag. In this day and age you can’t just leave a closed bag on a sidewalk without everything thinking you are a terrorist. I wanted a passerby to know that our package was safe. No terrorist leaves their website URL and Twitter handle on their packages.
We sprinkled the city with kindness as we walked back to our car.
Even though our mission didn’t go as planned, we still enjoyed our RAKs, knowing someone out there would be blessed with kindness. When the last bag was placed, we took a quick selfie then made our way back to our car to head home, a little more thankful for all that we have.
As I left the city and drove down the winding paths of my hometown, I had to laugh when I saw this church sign. As if I need confirmation that today was, indeed, a planned event.
I really do enjoy God’s little whispers on my heart. 🙂
A special thanks to the following people who also followed the whisper on their hearts to donate to this special RAK. We will do this again, so if you would like to donate to the cause, please let me know!
Stacie Taylor – blankets
Suzi Tapper – blankets
Lori Cross – bags
Amie Boothe – bags
Emily Cleaton – bags
Daniel Letter – bag
Krista Miller – mints
Michele Payne – hats and gloves
Cindy Ashburn – peanut butter, crackers, Oreos and hand warmers
For those interested in making their own blessing bags, here’s a list of additional items we added: spoons, water, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, soap, candy, playing cards, money, and handwritten notes. Next time I hope to add socks, tissues, and small wet wipes.
Be blessed, my friends, and stay safe in the storm!