Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another Person's Treasure

Help Bag

I don't know why, but I have this thing about trial-sized stuff. I don't go anywhere I'd need it, like vacation. I just like it. I always buy it. Or I used to take it, from hotels. The shampoo, soap, mini sewing kit. I think everyone takes that stuff, or I assume people do. The weird thing is that I'm very brand loyal. So would I even use a different toothpaste or soap? As evidenced by the cabinet full of this type of thing, I'm going to say I haven't used them. I kept them though, thinking one day I might have a use for them.

In March 2011, I watched the reality show Secret Millionaire on ABC. A millionaire would go into some depressed area, meet people there, then decide how they wanted to disperse around $100,000. Every episode was a tear jerker, as it was meant to be, so I'd get hooked when I saw it on. Only one really stuck with me though. It was this guy, John Ferber (the millionaire). There wasn't anything especially memorable about him. It was who he helped. There was this hat designer guy, Amin Moinzadeh, who sells hats to famous people on Melrose Avenue (not "Place") in LA in the front of his store, but then had a back area where he assembled bags of necessities for homeless people. He'd assemble these toiletry bags (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo), and extra clothing, then bring them to Skid Row and hand them out. The millionaire guy gave Amin money for more supplies.

Of course I was crying at the end. And in theory, I thought- what a great idea. But I still didn't get around to it. My mom had died, my kid was just two, I was going back to work. There's a lot of stuff I mean to get to and don't. B literally just walked up to my desk and asked me why we have a step-stool in the kitchen now. "Just to get to the pots and pans?", he asked. Yeah. So the wood floors don't get scraped moving the chairs over there. I've always meant to get one, but never have. "You've always wanted one, but it took ten years...". Yes. Did you just meet me?

Last school year, E swam in Lodi twice a week. Just about every single ride there, we'd see the same homeless people along our ride, in the same spots. One guy, E and I nicknamed Thor because he reminded me of the mechanic guy in the original Adventures in Babysitting. He also has long flowing blond hair. He would be waiting at the light on this one stretch of road that was the exit between two highways. He walks around with a sign asking for food or money. It felt weird to just drive by and not give anything. I started bringing granola bars for him in case I was stopped where he was walking. It was always a crapshoot whether I'd be stopped close enough to the light. This was a quick exchange kind of thing. There wasn't even anywhere to stop or pull over.

Once, I filled a duffel bag I got on our honeymoon with a bunch of B's clothes, toilet paper, paper towels, plastic utensils, an umbrella, toiletries, and more, and handed that to Thor out the window. I practically had to throw it before the light turned green. I told B and he was like- "How was he supposed to carry that around??" I did not think of that. Thor still seemed appreciative. I asked what else he needed and he asked if I could get some pants or leggings for his wife. So I did.

After that, I thought- I really should just clean out that cabinet of toiletries and make those smaller toiletry bags. I googled "bags for homeless" or something like that. Of course, I was taken to Pinterest and saw "Blessing Bags". I guess someone or more than one person call them this and put a blessing in the bag with the toiletries. However, to me, that's proselytizing, and definitely not my thing, so I'm just calling them "help bags".

I had shampoo & conditioner, travel toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand lotion, body lotion, soaps, sewing kits, wet naps (like individual ones from bbq, seafood, or hibachi), Q-tips, pens, lip balm, body wash, tissue packs, face wash, you name it. Make-up- I had tons of brand new make-up I'd never use from gifts, gifts with purchase, etc. I had remembered also reading somewhere that one of the best things to give is a handbag filled with feminine needs. Because those items aren't donated as much.

I took everything out of the cabinet and put it on my bedroom floor. I made an assembly line of sorts, making sure I had one of everything for as many bags as I could. I also had all these random plastic carrying cases from when I worked at John Abate International. They held tanning products to give to tanning salons. I also had them from gift sets - like the cosmetic bags they give you as a free gift with purchase. Some were big, like handbag size too. I think I filled about twenty bags. Then of course, in my OCD way, I started scavenging around my house for more things. I have this giant box of scarves I never wear. In my head, I picture myself wearing a trendy scarf, in a trendy way, until I realize I hate scarves and they itch me. Or they just don't look right on me. Bye-bye scarves. I also had knit hats and baseball type caps I'd gotten in swag bags or I don't know where. Bye hats. I went to the dollar store and ended up buying socks and gloves.

I buy all kinds of granola and breakfast bars for E that he then tells me he doesn't like. Healthy stuff that sounds good, but he just decides aren't going to work for him. I HATE to throw it away because it's a waste so then I had somewhere for those to go too. I put two or three in every bag. No, this is not like giving muffin stumps. I could've given the bars unwanted by my child to my husband, but he didn't NEED them. He'd just eat them out of boredom. Some other adult, who did need them, would be perfectly happy with healthy bars.

In someone's blog about the blessing bags, she wrote about giving five dollars, but in change, in the bags. In change, they could use it at a laundromat or somewhere change is necessary. Now, of course a lot of these machines take dollar bills and there are no phone booths left, but you never know when someone might need change. It just gives more options.

I'm not writing about this to pat myself on the back or anything. I'm not doing anything special. It wasn't some original idea. I'm certainly not giving away $100,000. I'm writing this because I don't know when it became December 21st already. Time just seems to FLY. I feel like "the giving season" is almost over. Around Thanksgiving, people are all about replenishing food banks, and doing acts of kindness. It extends to Christmas, but I don't know how long after people are thinking about those who don't have much. Most people are going to get gifts they can't return and that they aren't going to use. Secret Santa hats, scarves, socks, and gloves. Instead of just throwing them in a closet, put them to better use.

Last Sunday, I tried to go to Radio Shack (don't ask, but they *are* still in business), but it was closed. It looked like lights were on there so I took a chance and stopped. They weren't open but there was a dollar store next door. It was raining, I stepped in a puddle and was so annoyed. Both bottoms of my pants were soaked and it was freezing. Then I saw this guy sitting on the wet ground outside the dollar store holding Rosary beads. He just looked sad and tired. I keep these help bags in my car all the time, all year round. I went back to my car, got him a bag, and just handed it to him. I didn't say anything because what is there to say? I didn't want to embarrass him or anything. I just wanted him to have it. I made a mental note that maybe I can get cheap umbrellas to add to the bags. I saw him eating one of the granola bars right away so I was happy it didn't go in the garbage.

So, if this entry gives you that kick in the pants over school break to clean out the toiletries you're never going to use and other useful items for someone on the street, then that's what I'm here for. Remember, it's cold here, in NJ, until around the end of March, sometimes longer. That's a long time past "holiday season". There is plenty of time and plenty of need to give. We don't live in a special bubble. There are homeless people like a mile away. For me, it's just a personal preference, I like to give where I can actually see it go to where it's supposed to go, so this works for me.

Happy holidays and Happy New Year. I'm saying it early because I don't know how much time I'll have to write once E gets out of school Friday for the break!

Episode of Secret Millionaire:

H.A.T. charity:

If you live in Bergen County and want to do *something* but aren't sure what, here's a good starting point for information: 

Bergen County Volunteers-

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