Compassion In A Bag




Here in Central Florida, it’s common to pull up to a stoplight and see someone standing there with a sign, asking for help. It’s a basic truth that most of us could end up in that scenario more easily and quickly than we’d like to admit.

I’m embarrassed to say that most of the time I busy myself — pretending I’m on the phone, messing with my radio, or suddenly looking very closely in the mirror for something imaginary stuck in my eye — anything to avoid eye contact and that awkward moment of having to shake my head “no” with a regretful half-smile. But with my kids in the back seat of the minivan, it’s more than awkward. It’s a moment of conflict — guilt over them seeing my apathy, yet reluctance to teach them to just give money because a person appears to need it.

So I now make “blessing bags” to give, instead of the change out of my cup holder or worse, just looking away.


Each bag has a collection of items such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, dental floss, sunscreen, baby wipes, applesauce and spoon, single service peanut butter cups, bags of tea, lollipops, etc. I sometimes make gender-specific bags, with feminine hygiene products for the ladies or razors for the gentlemen. I am always on the lookout for trial-size items on sale, or multi-packs of anything at the dollar store. I also collect every uneaten applesauce cup from my kids’ meals at Tijuana Flats. Anything to keep up “inventory” at low cost.

I use large Ziploc bags, with smaller bags inside for leak-likely things. If I buy a huge pack of makeup remover wipes or dryer sheets, for example, I will break them into smaller sets to put into more bags. Why dryer sheets? Put one in your pocket; it repels mosquitoes!

My hope is that this is a loving thing to do for those who are less fortunate, without teaching the watchful eyes in the rear view mirror that it’s OK to give money away to strangers who ask. We’ve discussed the needs of these people at length; my kids understand what they claim to be asking for and why, as well as the heartbreaking reality that things are not always what they seem. And we know we are called to love one another. I like to think I’m teaching my kids habits of caring for all members of our community. And I’ve already seen evidence of them taking this kind of initiative on their own.

The other day we passed a woman standing with a sign and her two small children. I whipped into a nearby parking lot and asked how many applesauces we had in the back that were still waiting to be assigned to a blessing bag.

“A bunch,” my daughter replied. I told her to put them in a grocery bag. “How many?” she asked. “All of them!”

Then my kids scrounged around the floor of the van for anything we didn’t need. I’m mortified to say how many loose toys we have floating around in the inches-deep layer of clutter between their seats at any given time. But at long last it paid off! We found Chick-Fil-A cow watches, comic books and Happy Meal toys.

It was ironic and sad how most of the brick-a-brack tossed carelessly on the floor and forgotten by my kids was associated with meals, which was probably what the two children on the street needed most. In the end, the offering seemed sort of pitiful. But my kids jumped out of the car and handed over a load of stuff that, at the very least, the boys tore into and appeared to enjoy.

The mother and I exchanged a tearful look over the heads of our little ones, and that was that. Maybe they needed it. Maybe they appreciated it. But certainly the pattern of behavior I’ve shown is starting to take root in my kids.

There are a lot of things I do wrong as a mom. But taking my time to gather and assemble these bags is something I’ve done right. I’ve got this one in the bag.



  1. I like your idea, Sarah. I do the same thing at the stop light. My kids always look for the change on the floor, etc.,though. They always want to open the window. IN some ways, kids are naturally compassionate, I think, but your plan does seem more pro-active and thoughtful than just scrounging, trying to find something in between seats most of the time.

  2. I love this idea and would like to do something similar, but have a question. How old are your children? My oldest will be five next week and I am not sure how to address homelessness (people at the stoplight) in a way that will help him understand but not scare him. Any suggestions and ideas are appreciated. Thanks,

  3. My kids are 8 & 10, and we’ve been doing this for some time now. I’d recommend focusing on the things your son DOES have and enjoys, then gently explaining that some people don’t have those things. “We have such a nice house with lots of room for everybody and all of our things, but sometimes people don’t have a house of their own that they can go to every night. Sometimes they have to sleep in lots of different places and take their stuff with them” And rather than saying someone “can’t find a job” – which can be a little scary for a little one – you can simply say, “I have a job that I really like, but there are lots of reasons that sometimes a person CAN’T work. When that happens, they need help from people like us to make things a little easier.”

    The beauty of using the leftover things like their applesauce cups or lollipops, is that it lets them get in on the action. My son is too fidgety to even care about the applesauce at Tijuana Flats. He’s all about the hot bar! But at the end of the meal, I make him wipe off the applesauce cup (and spoon, if it’s not covered in hot sauce) and carry it out with us. I keep a bin in the car for collecting stuff, and storing the assembled bags. He then makes a clear connection – that’s the applesauce cup that leaves the car later in the week through the window to someone in need.

    We focus on “making things easier”. Things that will make a person’s day a little more enjoyable, like a good shave, some floss to get that annoying thing stuck in your teeth, some good-smelling body spray, etc. Little ones don’t need to dig philosophically deep to understand the simple joys of owning their own toothbrush! So just stick to that. Your child’s questions will be your guide as to how much they are ready to learn, or how much they truly want to know. Trust your gut, and they will undoubtedly learn beautiful things from your example!

    Another way he can help is to make pictures or cards to stick in each bag with little happy thoughts. Even if he has nothing tangible or helpful to give, putting a smile in the bag goes a long way! Which reminds me, don’t be at all surprised if the recipient starts crying happy tears. I get that a lot, and almost always a “God bless you.” Be prepared with your response, and also the explanation for why they were overwhelmed. Again, keep it simple. “Us grown ups are silly, and sometimes we’re so happy we cry! We did a good thing, and it made him happy. That was just his way of showing us how much it meant to him. Good job! High five!”

  4. This is such a fantastic idea. I am loaded down with all kinds of samples that I end up giving away to friends who probably don’t need them or I toss away. I’ll be creating little baggies to keep in my car in case I run into someone who could use them. I’m like you in that I always awkwardly look down and pretend not to see them. Not because I don’t want to help, but because I do and can’t. This sounds like such a grand solution. I love you even more now!


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