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Featured: Christmas outreach idea: Bags of hope

Christmas outreach idea: Bags of hope

Are you looking for a new and different idea for giving this Christmas season? United Methodist Communications' employees consistently take up a form of community outreach at Christmas time, whether it is adopting a family, serving meals at a shelter or donating goods to local charities. One idea, however, has been such a blessing to the givers themselves that it is becoming an annual tradition.

For the third consecutive year, co-workers at the Nashville-based agency have assembled a collection of food, blankets and personal products into what they call “bags of hope,” which are shared throughout the holiday season.

Employees have learned that in giving, they also receive.

“This year, it was decided that we would again put together 50 bags for the homeless,” said Lladale Carey, web content producer. “This is a great opportunity to show our love for our fellow Nashvillians who are less fortunate than we are.”

Audrey Dowlen, receptionist, saw her gift in action during last year’s giveaway. She took two bags to hand out and ended up sharing the second bag to the same person she had given one to the year before, a local vendor of Nashville’s weekly street paper, “The Contributor.” By chance, she ran into him later that day at Walmart, shopping with his wife.

“I knew a Walmart gift card had been in the ‘bag of hope’ I gave him earlier that day. As I later passed them in the store, I saw two bed pillows and toiletries in the buggy. It was a great feeling to see them look so happy and content.”

Deeann Bogle, administrative assistant, says that last year she waited for God to show her the people with whom to share her bags.

“I drove around with two bags, literally for more than a month,” Bogle says. “On a cold February day, I was driving and spotted two men, sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree, in a person’s front yard. Both men were older, had beards, and looked weary and tattered. I passed by and instantly knew this was my opportunity.”

When Bogle turned her car around and pulled into the driveway, she motioned for the men to come to her car window so she could give them the bags. When she drove away, she looked in her rearview mirror.

“Those two grown men were going through those bags,” she says, “pulling items out one by one with energy and excitement, just like children on Christmas morning.”

After participating in the project at work, Natalie Bannon, public relations specialist, continued the practice in her own family’s Christmas gift giving.

Rather than exchange gifts among themselves, they filled two gift bags and shared them with needy folks with whom they had become familiar during the year.

“We went out one day to find the persons to whom we wanted to give our bag. We even took our dog,” Bannon says. Once they located the recipients, Bannon and her husband spent some time talking with their new friends, as well as giving them the items. “The people we met with were really grateful,” she says.

For those who would like to adopt “bags of hope” project in their communities at the holidays — or year-round — here are some ideas of what to collect. Just assemble the items in a large, durable bag to share with someone!

Suggested items:

  • Bottled water or protein drinks
  • Snack foods (ready-to-eat items such as cheese and crackers, fruit cups, canned meats, granola bars, nuts — buy pull-top cans that contain items that can be eaten without cooking)
  • Toiletries, such as deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hand sanitizer, tissues, hand wipes, lip balm, lotion
  • Hand warmers and foot warmers
  • Socks
  • Gloves, hat and scarf sets
  • Sweatshirts, thermal underwear or blankets
  • Copies of The Upper Room