Alternative Giving Idea: Blessing Bags to Homeless

Brent Pittman —  11/30/2012

The following is an excerpt from a reader about their endeavor to give bags of goodies to the homeless in Los Angeles: 

“A few weeks ago, some moms and I got together to make ‘blessing bags‘ for the homeless. Basically a gallon size Ziploc bag full of nonperishable snacks and small toiletries. You keep them in your car and give them to homeless people begging at stoplights. I was inspired by my daughter who saw a man holding a sign that said “hungry” and wanted to help him.

Anyway, we made the bags and listening to some of the stories coming back are curious. We are all having trouble giving the bags away!!! The homeless people I’ve encountered have either yelled at me, simply declined, or asked if there’s “any money in there.”

Now I’m trying not to feel hurt. And I’m trying to figure out why they don’t want my goodwill!”- Reader Email

Alternative Giving to Homeless: My Thoughts

If you live in an urban area, homelessness is an overt fact. I (Brent) rode the subway from Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles (yes, we do have a few subways) and was hit up twice for money on that trip.

I honestly didn’t have cash or change and I’m always torn about whether to give it when I do. Am I the only one with this dilemma?

My wife and I have also made and given out such Ziplock bags of goodies to the homeless. We learned in San Francisco that fresh clean socks are a hot item among the homeless, so they seemed appreciative.

We were never yelled, but they did seem confused at times when we leaned out the car window to offer our blessing bag.

Why did we make up these bags instead of handing out money? Lack of trust for those who would use money to harm themselves. The desire to do good. Wanting to help the problem and not fuel the problem. We wanted to feel good about ourselves…It’s a complex answer isn’t it?

Homelessness is a macro problem, and the solutions needed are multilayered and complex. I only hope the goodwill and blessing bags of this group of moms and children will change this world for the better.

Have you ever participated in alternative giving to a homeless person? Please share in the comments below.

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Brent is a financial coach and writer looking for the perfect donut. He believes personal finance should be both fun and accessible to anyone willing to learn.
  • Rachel Edrington

    I am a college student and I am living away from home and have been wanting to do blessing bags for quite some time. Do you suggest any way to help bring in items to pack these bags with because I really do not have the money to go out and buy all these items, Maybe with my church? Let me know if you have any ideas. Thank you so much.

    • Rachel,
      Interesting dilemma. Necessity spurs creativity. I’d say share your idea with friends. Perhaps they have the money, but not the time. You could always ask for donations from the local community. Let us know how it pans out. Send pics to @ontargetcoach

  • I’m guessing it’s a problem of maintaining dignity. I see people selling fliers/newspapers at stoplights as a way to pretend they are selling something of value. These are throwaway type papers. Maybe wrapping something as a gift would seem more personal & not so institutional? Including a little money inside is a a good idea too.

  • krantcents

    My wife and I volunteer with an organization hat feeds the homeless. Aside from volunteering time, we also give food.

  • My pastor mentioned this a few years back, and I thought it was a great idea. I think as long as the bags are worthwhile and not just collections of junk then they would be a good alternative. I think the best idea would be to also offer a little cash inside the bag. Perhaps they abuse it, but I think it comes off as more loving than just simply goods.

    • Any idea why suggest giving cash also? Not saying it’s wrong, just want to know your reasoning.

      • Justin Lowenthal

        I believe it is a issue of trust and dignity. They know that most people do not trust them with money. Giving them money says “I believe you will do something worthwhile with this”. This has the potential to be very uplifting. Besides if you put 2 dollars in there the worst they can do is buy a beer, that’s not so bad right? If I was living on the street I know that I might need a drink every now and again…

        • Justin,
          Thanks for your contribution to the conversation. Trust and dignity are important issues at the core of homelessness. I’m curious, do you speak as someone who works with the homeless or a connection with homelessness.