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,” said 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, tissue packets, combs, toothbrushes with toothpaste, hand sanitizer and even more. Sometimes there’s even a small package 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 used to ride his bike to school and a family panhandled outside Safeway,” Marijke remembered an incident that showed the lesson was being learned. “He came home and was concerned about the boy who was 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. The generous woman believes her faith is part of the decision.
“It’s not everyone, but when God lays it on my heart,” she commented thoughtfully, referring to how she sees this as a ministry to the poor – one she has been doing for a number of years.
The 66-year old mom recalled a teenager who was begging outside the local Ace Hardware store one day. 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 know of any and I wished I did,” Marijke recalled 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. For her, it’s something she understands from listening to her military dad years ago.
“My father was a Dutch naval officer and a POW in several concentration camps,” the daughter remembered 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 reflected 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.