Panhandlers find blessings inside a bag

Posted by Lucy Luginbill on July 11, 2013 

It isn’t everyone who thinks about the needs of a panhandler. But one passerby has a creative way of giving to street beggars with her “blessing bags.”

“I always struggle with panhandlers,” says Richland resident Marijke Cook about the dilemma of whether to give money, “and what I liked about the idea was that it meets their needs that people don’t always think about — sanitation, something healthy to eat.”

Besides granola bars and nonperishable fruit snacks, the plastic gallon-size bags hold hotel-size soaps and shampoos, packets of Kleenex, combs, toothbrushes with toothpaste, hand sanitizer and even more. Sometimes there’s even a packet of laundry detergent included.

Although Marijke doesn’t lay claim to the original “blessing bag” idea, this widowed mother of four sees her gift giving as a way to teach compassion by example.

“My youngest son rides his bike to middle school and a family panhandles outside Safeway,” Marijke says about a recent indicator the lesson is being learned. “He came home and was concerned about the boy who is his same age.”

Still, the “blessing bags” she keeps in her car don’t go to every panhandler Marijke sees when she’s out and about in town.

“It’s not everyone, but when God lays it on my heart,” she comments thoughtfully, referring to how she sees this as a ministry to the poor.

The 64-year-old mom recalls a teenager who was begging outside the local Ace Hardware store not long ago. She felt a nudge to donate a “blessing bag” which was then followed by the boy’s query about possible odd jobs she might know of that he could do.

“I didn’t and I wished I did,” Marijke recalls regretfully. “In my rear view mirror he was going through his bag and I got the impression that he was cherishing the items, that he was really in need and appreciative.”

Whether the gift is received with gratefulness or not has nothing to do with why this altruistic woman gives.

“My father was a Dutch naval officer and a POW in several concentration camps,” the daughter remembers about his World War II stories. “He said people started giving up on themselves when they quit grooming themselves.”

Marijke wants the “blessing bags” to make a difference in how panhandlers feel about themselves — and their future.

“It would sadden me if they gave up,” she says compassionately. “I want them to know they’re worth being taken care of.”

It’s the loving message in a bag — one intended to bless and rekindle hope.

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