blessing bags

This post was written by Sara Clarke,  our part-time development and marketing person for ECC and my friend.  Her message seems particularly poignant to me as we brace for Hurricane Sandy and I realize how many in our midst might soon be in need of blessings and help. I hope you are moved by her words as I was!


Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  Matthew 25:40-45

The other day, I was driving home from my job at Providence Children’s Museum.  While I love my job, many personalities, strong opinions and my need to fix everything had made for a particularly contentious day.  My asthma was acting up,  I was tired and aggravated.  All I wanted to do was go home, change into my sweats, and forget about my day.

To give you some perspective, the Museum is in the Jewelry district, near the Point Street bridge.  The area is being revitalized with new restaurants, shops and cafes, and is considered to be a haven for artists and musicians alike.  To go home, I need to cross a bridge to go over interstate 95, near Crossroads Rhode Island, the leading homeless service organization in our state.

As I was approaching the bridge, I noticed a man on the corner holding up a sign: “I’m homeless, please help.”  He looked to be middle aged, although it was obvious that years of hard living had taken its toll.  He wore a tan jacket, and had a sad, distant, scruffy face.

Now, I have conflicted feelings about just giving cash to people on the street.  On one hand, I can hear Fr. John Hall in the barn at the Episcopal Conference Center, quoting the gospel passage above…I’ll get back to that in a minute.  On the other hand, I know giving money isn’t always the best solution.  However, I have been known on numerous occasions to buy a coffee or a sandwich for a homeless person, especially when I worked in downtown Providence.

On this particular day, I had worked long and hard.  My asthma was making my day much more difficult, and I still had to attend to my other job when I got home.  I actually found myself becoming annoyed with this homeless man asking me for money, thinking to myself,  “Why doesn’t he go to Crossroads?  Maybe if he spent the time he has been standing here, looking for work…If I can work two jobs then certainly he can find one.”

You get the idea.

So I kept my window up, didn’t make eye contact, and kept driving.  I went home, changed into my sweats, answered some emails, and went to sleep.  And, I’m ashamed to say, I really didn’t think much about my action, or inaction, until last night.

Last night at the St. David’s youth group meeting, we talked about our outreach projects and how we could help people in our community.  One of the mom’s came up to me after the meeting, and asked me if I had ever heard of blessing bags.  It turns out that a  blessing bag is a gallon sized Ziploc bag to keep in your car or your work bag, to give to the homeless.  Each bag contains items like chapped stick, granola bars, toothbrushes- all the things we take for granted, but that could make someone’s day easier.  She suggested we ask the congregation to donate these products, the youth group could organize the items and fill the bags, and then give one bag to each parish family.

Of course, I  loved the idea!  We can help, I can fix something!  Then I started thinking of ways we could help even more people.  We could give the blessing bags to the George Hunt H.E.L.P. Center and to the Cranston Interfaith Food Pantry, and…and…and then I remembered the homeless man in the tan jacket, with the sad, distant scruffy face on the corner.

Why didn’t I help him?  Certainly, it would have been much easier to give that man a dollar or two than to organize a parish project.  Then it hit me.

I’m human.  For the thirty seconds I sat at that light, I chose to judge, and not to help.

Back to Fr. Hall’s sermon at ECC.  Honestly, I am not really sure if Fr. Hall ever gave a specific sermon on this topic, or if he ever read this particular gospel passage.  But I do know that is how we were encouraged to think, and certainly how we were taught, and shown by example, how to live.

Because of my experience at ECC, so much of what I do everyday involves giving of myself.  My human self.  Whether it is my precious time, my talent, as it were, or my limited treasure, I give.  And I give a lot, without expecting much in return.  It’s how I am wired, and I don’t know how to function any other way.

Except when I can’t.  When I just don’t have any more to give.  We live in a world that demands our attention be split in a hundred different ways.  Resources are tight and money is scarce.  But part of our job as Episcopalians, and certainly as Christians, is to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person, in spite of the obstacles.

Even if we feel like we just can’t give anymore.

So, today, I am starting Operation Blessing Bag!   How awesome would it be if we can give each family in the parish a blessing bag to keep in their car or in their work bag?   Even better, how awesome would it be if we could then tell our friends what we are doing, and they wanted to help, too?   How amazing would it be, when we just don’t think we can give anymore, to be able to reach into the back seat of our car, and give, just one more time?

That’s what it’s all about, my friends.  Choosing to help, not to judge.  Choosing to be part of the solution, not the problem.

And most importantly, choosing to live a life in Christ.


Sara Clarke is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island.  She is currently the Events Manager at Providence Children’s Museum, owner of Emma’s Edibles, a funky innovative chocolate company, and she works for the Episcopal Conference Center in the areas of fundraising and development.  A long-time Sunday School teacher, Sara is also a member of the vestry at St. David’s on the Hill Episcopal Church in Cranston, Rhode Island.  If she had any free time, she would enjoy traveling to sporting events with her wicked funny sister, and writing a book on her career experiences.



4 thoughts on “blessing bags

  1. I know exactly the man you passed (I don’t really ‘know’ him, but drive by him frequently) – I pass by Crossroads to head home at the end of the day and see him here, and he’s often on the Trail on my way in to work in the morning. I’ve reached out and handed him a piece of fruit, or bottle of water, or my lunch, or even a pair of gloves… but I’ve always had mixed feelings about handing over cash, too… Operation Blessing Bags is a great idea – and would love to help it catch on in the east bay, too. Thanks, Sara!

  2. Sara – love this idea and sharing it! Seems like things going well for you all up at St. David’s-on-the-Hill. Prayers for your stormy weather.

  3. In Austin TX and Virginia Beach/Norfolk VA we call these manna bags. All kinds of groups make them. Even the nursing home residents. Some dementia patients are very helpful with some guidance. All people love the idea of contributing in some way whether buying items, organizing, actually making the bags or giving them out. We have added various items from time to time – bus passes, socks, 211 resource cards – along with food and water. Some municipalities offer discount passes to 501c3 groups. Check it out.

  4. I love this idea !!!! Sign me up to help. I am lucky enough to have Sara Clarke in my life. She is a model of giving 🙂

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