A few Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon with two of my best friends and their families, handing out brown lunch bags filled with snacks, to 50 random homeless people who we encountered in the streets of Portland and Vancouver. Although the gesture filled just a temporary need for the recipients, to me, the afternoon was life-changing. The majority of the people to whom we gave bags, were genuinely appreciative and often directed us to other homeless "camps" where we would be welcomed. I was surprised by people's friendliness and just how sincerely grateful people were were to receive our modest snack bags. I was near tears on several occasions. Some of the homeless people we encountered, were so affected by addiction or mental illness, they were basically asleep or passed out under tarps or blankets and all we could do was leave a bag by their side and hope they'd see it when they awoke. I was also surprised, and very relieved, to run into a few other people who were doing the very same thing we were doing. A few of those people were driving older, hardly-working cars and probably had very little to give, yet they were on the streets, giving to people who had less.
The seed for this act was actually planted a few years ago but we just now put it into action on a scale larger than just one-bag-at-a-time.
Our three families had decided a few years prior that we were going to stop exchanging Christmas gifts, except for the kids. Once we made that decision, our holiday celebrations became more about the friendship and love we shared between our families and less about consumerism and stress.
It was at our 2011 Christmas get-together that my friend Debbie presented each of us with a brown bag full of treats. We started to scold her for breaking the rules and giving us gifts, but then she explained that the brown bags were not our gifts, but they were small gifts for us to give away to a person in need. The bags contained a few snacks that added up to a decent meal. Each bag contained:
-Bottle of water
-Can of V8 Juice
-A snack pack of Tuna and Crackers
-Fruit Roll Up
-Peanut Butter and Crackers or Cheese and Crackers
-A Granola Bar
Debbie then explained the idea for "Project Brown Bag - Northwest." She instructed us that once we gave away the bag she had given us, we were to pack more of our own bags and to continue to give away brown bags at every opportunity. She made the offer that if we were unable to find the time, or money, to pack bags, that she would always have extra bags for us to give out and we could give back in the form of time, or money, or more product, when we were better able to do so.
The idea was born from Debbie's desire to help the homeless people she passed on the freeway on-ramps on her daily commute. She had always wanted to help them in some way, but was concerned that a gift of money may contribute to substance abuse or addiction issues and perpetuate the situation of homelessness. She was tired of looking the other way and avoiding eye-contact with homeless people. She wanted to help and she wanted people to know that someone cared about them. It was her hope, and objective, that we would continue to pass out brown bags to the homeless people we encounter on a daily basis, and then spread the word and encourage our other friends and family to do the same.
As it turns out, there are several other "Project Brown Bag" organizations and movements. Debbie shares her idea with several others, in several different states. Can you imagine the impact it would have on our world if every human gave a small gesture of kindness to another human being, every single day?
You can "brown bag," simply by having your car stocked with a few pre-packed lunch bags filled with non-perishable snacks, at the ready, to give away to any person in need. A bag filled with the snacks listed above, has a cost of about $2. (items were purchased at Costco, except for the tuna packs which were purchased at the Dollar Tree.) I also like to keep a few bags of dog food to give as well. If I don't have actual pre-packaged "brown bags" to give, I still keep snacks handy so at least I have something to offer.
Every recipient that I've ever given to, has always been very appreciative but I know sometimes that isn't the case. Sometimes, face it, people want or need the cash. The point is, your gift of a brown bag or other food item is both nourishment for the recipient's body, and in a small way, it is nourishment for their spirit. In that one small gesture, you're showing a person there is still kindness in this world and you're showing that person that the world still cares about them. Amazingly, in the process of helping another, you will also find that you've nourished your own spirit.
In addition to our daily "brown bag" efforts, my friends and I are now going to get together every 3 months to distribute at least 50 bags, and we'll try to fill the bags with a little something extra. (such as socks, hand warmers, etc.) It is our dream to someday be able to hand out bags with hygiene items and a t-shirt or other clothing. Until then, we will just continue to hand out one little snack bag at a time and hope that others can do the same. We can make a difference, one human being to another.