Bags full of hygienic items are blessings to NJ’s homeless
The needs of the homeless and others with economic stability struggles are especially magnified in a time of crisis -- like 2020's pandemic and economic downturn. A group centered in Monmouth County called the Blessing Bag Brigade is doing its best to meet those needs.
But what is a "blessing bag?"
It is also known as a comfort bag, or a hygiene bag, and Blessing Bag Brigade founder Kevin Garrison says each of his gallon-size Ziplocs contains water, snacks, socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, and a razor.
Garrison first handed these bags out to homeless people walking the streets of New York City, but found New Jersey a tougher nut to crack because the Garden State, he said, actually does a good job feeding its homeless through soup kitchens and food banks.
"Where I think we fall short sometimes is the other things that give us dignity and pride, and that's in our cleanliness, such as these hygiene kits," he said.
The Blessing Bag Brigade now distributes 2,000 of these bags every month, expanding from their Monmouth hub down the Jersey Shore, also concentrating on large urban centers like Newark and New Brunswick.
Garrison recognizes that it can be tough sometimes for people to ask for the things they really need, and so the group has partnered with other community stalwarts like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and other churches and nonprofits to help with distribution.
At every facility the Blessing Bag Brigade goes to, volunteers make sure everyone present receives a bag.
Assembling the contents of a bag is an exact process, and the way that the volunteers do that has changed due to COVID-19, Garrison said.
"We have people come to our barn we have set up in Holmdel, and we have people come there and pick up lots of 50, of all our items, and they bring it home or wherever they bring it, and then they make blessing bags for us, and then they return those completed bags," he said.
According to Garrison and what he called a "conservative estimate," donations to the Blessing Bag Brigade dropped off by 90% at the beginning of the pandemic, but they have since begun to bounce back.