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A very cool idea that seemed worth sharing with the folks at this board- perhaps some others here would like to take it up also...

The children's program at my church does this thing every month where the kids make and sell "manna bags," which are gallon-sized plastic bags with food and other small items that a homeless person could use. The idea is that you buy a bag ($4 each) and then give it to a homeless person panhandling on a street corner, rather than just giving money that may support a destructive lifestyle. The bags sell out every time.

My wife and I have taken quite a liking to this approach to helping the homeless and have started making our own bags and keeping a few in our cars at all times. The first item that goes into each bag is something that we learned about from the folks at church who organize the manna bag effort for the kids: SOCKS. I had no idea, but apparently new socks are a much-sought-after item among the homeless, and I can tell you that of all the people to whom we've given a manna bag, at least half have specifically pointed to the socks in the bag and said that that was they really needed. We've found you can buy socks in large quantities (packs of a dozen or 15 pair, or thereabouts) inexpensively at Sam's, Target, etc.

Food-wise, we try to include several items that are (a) non-perishable (duh), and (b) nutritious. Things like tuna-and-crackers combo packs, power bars, raisins, and citrus fruit cups or cans fit the bill. Obviously, any cans should be of the pull-tab variety, and we always include a plastic fork- sure don't want to give someone food that they have no way to eat. We also include a plastic bottle of water.

The last thing we always put in is a note telling the recipient where more help is available- for us, that means directions to the twice-a-week hot breakfasts for the homeless that our church serves. Other possible non-edibles to include might be soap, sunblock during the summer, those one-time-use chemical handwarmers during the winter, and/or toothbrushes and toothpaste.

We've found that this has been a tremendously rewarding thing to do, and while it increases our expenditures for groceries a bit, the amount really isn't all that much to absorb, especially when we consider how good we have it compared to so many others. It's always a bit difficult to decide whether or not to give money when confronted by panhandlers, and while the manna bag approach isn't perfect, it at least makes us feel like we're helping without actively, directly supporting a drug or alcohol habit. Indirectly, maybe, if we're just helping free up other money for bad habits, but... well, geez, the alternative is to do nothing, and that just doesn't sit well with us, either.

Anyway, just an elvish suggestion for the folks at this coolest of boards. Keep it up, y'all.

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