Blessing Bags: One Simple Way Your Kids Can Make a Difference

Every year, as the weather turns cooler and fall turns to winter, I feel so thankful, so grateful that my family and I have our cozy warm house to come home to. We walk home from the school bus stop or play outside bundled in our warm coats, our warm boots, and our warm gloves. When we come inside, we feel the rush of warm air from our central heat, quickly thawing our cold noses and toes.

Around that same time when fall turns to winter each year, and I am feeling so lucky and grateful, my kids and I start seeing homeless men standing at the stoplight near the highway on-ramp closest to our house. Why is it that we have so much while they have so little? A quirk of fate? An accident of birth? A run of bad luck?

As the saying goes, there but for the grace of God go I.

The people we see often have signs written on broken down pieces of cardboard boxes. They ask for food, money, or simply say “Anything Helps.” I want to help, and my kids do, too. With the innocence and kindness innate to children, they don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t help if they could. So, we often give a few dollars as we roll to a stop before getting on the highway. But, any time traffic makes it hard for me to stop and we drive by and don’t help, guilt starts to eat at me and I feel like I should do more the next time.

Last fall, I saw an old college friend post something about “Blessing Bags” on Facebook. I knew right away that this was something my kids and I could do to make a difference to the homeless men who began to be a familiar sight on our daily drives. A “Blessing Bag” is a gallon-size Ziploc bag full of items that can bring a little grace and dignity to the lives of homeless men and women in your community. Then, when you have that moment when you are stopped at a stoplight and want to do something real to help, you can.

Last year, we packed up a few of the bags and kept them in my minivan so that we were ready to help when we could. My 5-year-old daughter especially was excited to be able to help. She helped me put the bags together. She spotted each person that needed the bags, and she made sure that they all got handed out. This past weekend, we made another batch of them and my kids were excited to get them in the car, ready to hand out to anyone who needs them.

Items to put in your “Blessing Bags”:


I can’t presume to know exactly what anybody needs unless they tell me. So, I figure cash is the best way to help anyone get exactly what they need. Whether they need to buy food, clothes, medicine, pet food, a bus pass, whatever, cash gives people independence and helps them address their own needs in the way they believe is best.

Convenient Food

Single serving, easy to open and eat food, like tuna pouches with crackers, or peanut butter crackers, or breakfast bars, since most of the people we see have signs asking for food. I also try to make sure the food is easy to chew. Being homeless means trips to the dentist are probably not in the cards for the people we are trying to help. That might mean it’s difficult to eat things like hard granola bars or really chewy foods.


Travel-size toiletries work well, like hand lotion for chapped skin from being out in the cold, toothpaste and a toothbrush, tissues, shampoo, lip balm, etc.

Socks and gloves

Because it’s cold out there!


Write a note wishing them well, because everybody can use some good wishes.


Offer some information about local resources that can help, like shelters and places that offer free meals.

blessing bags
Toiletries, socks, gloves, and food – a good start for our bags. We added notes, cash, and a few pieces of chocolate later, because at our house, we believe everyone needs chocolate! It’s one of life’s necessities. 😉

I like doing the blessing bags because it helps my kids feel like they are really making a difference, and I think it is so important to instill early in kids a sense that they can and should try to change the world for the better. They’ll remember how good it felt to be able to help someone when they gave the bags out.

My kids don’t pay much attention when I write a check to a charity, but they will remember making these bags. 

And, that check I mentioned? Even if my kids don’t notice it, it’s still really important to me to write it. As a nonprofit professional for my entire career, I have a lot of faith in nonprofits and the good that they can do. I believe that the pros who devote every day of their professional lives to running shelters for the homeless know a lot better than I do how to help. And, they can make a difference to many more people than I can. That’s why we make a donation to our local shelter as well. Here in Iowa City, that’s Shelter House. You can make a cash donation to Shelter House here.

Or, you can check out the list of items that they need, many of which you might already have extras of around the house, like diapers, over the counter medications, and travel size toiletries. You can drop them off at Shelter House at 429 Southgate Avenue in Iowa City between 1-9 p.m. on weekdays or 8-10:30 a.m. on the weekends.

If you are reading from outside the Iowa City area, you can find a homeless shelter that you can support in your own community.

During this holiday season, may we find ways to be both thankful and giving.


Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.


  1. This is a wonderful idea!!! You’re right about the children not paying attention to checks – we support several charities and organizations monetarily, but doing something tangible like this will make a much deeper impact on the kid’s hearts! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I love blessing bags and have done them with my church! I love the idea of handing them out with my kids in the car, however, I get nervous to pull over and approach someone I don’t know… I’m not trying to stereotype, and anyone who knows me knows that my default setting is “people are innately good,” but with all the news today… It’s just hard.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.