Bags of Affirmation
Something that I like to do throughout the year but especially during these cold winter months, is to make up and distribute bags of affirmation. These paper bags are filled with snacks, clothes and encouraging words created for and handed out to those who we see standing on the street corner asking for money. If I’m able to, I try to find a place to park near by so that I can walk over and give the bag to the person standing there; allowing them the chance for them to talk and to have someone there to listen. There is nothing wrong with handing the bag to someone at the stop light however by taking the time to get out of the car and to walk over to them, you are showing them great respect. You are letting them know that they are seen, that they are loved and that you recognize them as a fellow human being.
I have a vivid memory of an encounter with a man standing on a corner a few years ago. I was traveling through Florida and remember passing by a guy on the corner who held a sign that read, “I’m not a zombie”. As we rounded our turn I recall looking through the car window into his eyes and seeing a man that was completely competent but who was just in a tight spot financially. When I looked into his face I saw someone that could have been someone’s father, he was someone’s son. What happened to him that led him to where he was today? What had gone wrong? This incident cut me to the core as I was frankly reminded by his sign that he was indeed not a zombie, not someone to just pass by but that he was a human being just like us.
For many people, myself included, it can be routine to see people asking for money on street corners or at intersections. I find that we usually do one of two things, the first being to give jostle around the dashboard for some spare change that we give to them; silently hoping that it goes to good use and not drugs of alcohol. The second being that we ignore them. We look down at our phones or straight ahead, willing the light to turn green so that we can move past the uncomfortable situation at hand. I used to be one of those people; who didn’t feel satisfied with either of those options. I felt like either way I wasn’t “doing good”. By making up and handing out these bags we aren’t solving the problem of poverty or homelessness. The bags of affirmation are meant to be just that, affirmation to the men and women receiving them that they are seen, that they are heard and that they are loved not just by us but by God.
It can be incredibly overwhelming when you take the time to consider the amount of poverty that exists not only in our country but around the world. You see these men and women standing on the street corners and realize that they represent a fraction of the number of those in need who are suffering every day. Mother Teresa once said that,
“I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.’ So you begin…I begin. I picked up one person - maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up the others. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you. Same thing in your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin…one, one, one. At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing - but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks - but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise.”
How to Make Bags of Affirmation
Step 1 | Find some bags
I make up 4 - 6 paper bags at a time and store them in a reusable bag behind the driver’s seat of my car. This way I’m able to quickly grab one as needed.
Step 2 | Grab some snacks
Walk around your home or the grocery store and round up some snacks. I usually throw in things like granola bars, raisins, goldfish, a water bottle, etc.
Step 3 | Throw in some “extras”
Feel free to throw in some “extras” such as fresh socks, hats, tissues, gift cards, bus passes, etc.
Step 4 | Offer Support
Do some research and find some local organizations in your area that are geared toward helping the homeless/those in need. Stop by their office to pick up some business cards with their information on it; to throw into your bags.
Step 5 | Words of Affirmation
The food and the gift cards are great but I think that one of the most important aspects of the bags are the notes inside. On them I write words of encouragement, love and affirmation.