18,577, that is the total number of children who experienced homelessness in our state during the 2016-2017 school year. (Statistic by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.) This number is beyond staggering to me as a mom and a human being. As of January of 2018, Virginia had an estimated 5,975 people experiencing homelessness on any given day and 478 of them were veterans.
Although there are local shelters and agencies in place to help serve the homeless men, women and children in our community the numbers continue to rise and shelters cannot keep up. The SERVE shelter is just one of the local shelters that provide help and shelter for those who are homeless. SERVE is the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Family Services. It offers 92 shelter beds, and have done amazing work over the past 10 years, however more help is needed. Their website states that 40 percent of their shelter guests are children. If you are interested in volunteering at SERVE click here.
As I was sitting with the boys the other day enjoying the warmth of our fireplace I was so thankful for a home to be in during these recent cold winter nights. This made me start thinking about so many in our community that currently do not have a home or even shelter. I decided it was time to help. I had seen the idea of the “Blessing Bags” before on social media and thought it would be a great idea.
There are roughly 42 homeless camps that are known in and around Western Prince William County, 6 alone are located in the Gainesville/Haymarket area.
Socks are one of the most important items that all Homeless need, please splurge here and do not get cheap socks. Keeping your feet clean and healthy is so important, especially when they are your only means of transportation. Wool socks are what they prefer but thermal work too.
Many have dental issues and are not able to chew gum, mints are a better option. This also goes for other hard and sticky items such as trail mix, and granola bars.
Most shelters pass this out for free.
When you shower at a shelter most supply you with soap which can also be used as shampoo, conditioner is appreciate though.
What do they want then? From my own experience serving and talking to homeless as well as a list I found created by someone who had themselves been homeless I have come up with the following list.
Tip: Smaller bottles fit better in backpacks, include multiple small bottles that can be given away or discarded after use. Try to stick to no strong scents for those who may have allergies or sensitivities.
Pack in a clear zip bag, it’s nice to include an inventory list at the front so they know what’s in it without having to dig through it. Put things that may leak in small Ziplock bags to keep food safe. You can also keep food in a separate bag. Don’t give used or opened items, please give what you would like to receive. These people are valuable, worthy and loved. Better yet put the Ziploc into a nice backpack or small rolling carryon, remember they are carrying all of their belongings with them.
After you have your bags made, don’t forget to put a couple in each of your vehicles. That way you are ready the next time you are stopped at a red light and have the opportunity to bless them.
Personally I prefer the opportunity to be able to engage and get the time to know the homeless, so many feel so alone and unworthy due to their circumstances when many of us are living just one paycheck away from the same situation. I believe we are far better able to support and honor these individuals when we build relationship and rapport, however I realize some interactions just don’t allow for this to happen.
It is for that reason that I believe Blessing Bags are a great way to help someone in those situations when time doesn’t allow otherwise. I do think that a nice handwritten note or card of encouragement to let them know someone cares can go a long way. Whether you include that in a blessing bag or simply pick up a pack of greeting cards at the store and write a small note and slip a gift card to a local eatery inside and hand that out, the goal is to let these wonderful people know someone cares, they matter, and let them know they are not alone.