If you’ve received this link – thank you! You’re one of a select few I’m initially trusting with this information to ask some advice and ideas. I appreciate the time and will try to do this quickly.
A little under two years ago, I started a project of my own to try to help just a few of the many homeless on the streets of LA. We currently have the largest homeless population in the country and, driving to work and all around (we drive a lot in LA!… or we used to….) you see and encounter people living on the streets all the time, everywhere.
From work I’ve done previously in this arena, I learned giving money is not the best idea. So for many years if someone asked me for money, if I had the time, I offered to go buy them food instead.
I started thinking, then, of a way I could be always ready to immediately give anyone food if they asked for help. Which meant having food ready that was canned or preserved.
I started keeping bags of food and water in my car that I could give to someone. Initially these would be the people holding a sign for help at a stop light or freeway exit.
I experimented a lot at first… which actual bag would be the best, for instance (I tried a few) and which products to put in the bag. By talking to some of these people, and to a few homeless advocates, I slowly modified and added to what was in the initial bag, based on needs. An example: I wanted to give as much protein as possible. So initially one product I had in the bag was beef jerky. Then I was talking to a man with whom I struck up a friendship, John, who lives near me with his wife and daughter under an overpass. One day when I asked what else I could get them, he smiled and said, a little embarrassed, “I need soft food. I don’t have many teeth.” Whoops. Beef jerky not the best idea.
I continued to figure out what would be best, which also depended on what I could find and afford. I decided to start adding a few sundries as well. I also heard from people that socks were really in need. So I added a pair of socks. It’s cold at night in LA year round, so I found some hoodies for about 13 bucks per and give these out when I can. And recently I was told by someone I trust, Brett Feldman of Street Medicine (more later), that AA batteries would be a godsend. That’s my most recent addition to the bag.
Here is a picture of the contents of my current bag. It can change a little, depending on availability. There’s a pop-top can of Stagg’s Chili that is incredible I get from Costco, but it’s not available now, hence the Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Etc etc. But excluding an individual packet of Justin’s Almond Butter (also not available this week) this is pretty much what each bag contains:
(At the bottom of this page, I have a list of the contents and what each bag generally costs.)
A side bar here: people bitch about Amazon, and I understand but I’ve found some amazing deals there. With Prime, they have to be losing a ton of money on me! My poor delivery people… I get a lot delivered from Amazon. Costco is a savior, also.
I fill my truck with bags and hoodies, and when I see someone asking for help, I hand them out. But that wasn’t enough. I’ve also started making, say, 20 or 30 bags and going to encampments – usually 10 or so tents under a bridge – and passing them out tent to tent.
Every once in a while, like with John whom I mentioned above, I’ll meet someone I see more than once and/or someone I trust enough to trade cell #’s. Matthew was such a guy. I met him in a Shell station parking lot and we connected. In his late 20’s with the most beautiful smile and a remarkably upbeat attitude, I found out he lived under a bridge along the LA River (just north of where The 110 hits The 5) so I was able a few times to bring everyone living there bags and even fresh food, because we could set a time I dropped by.
The last time I went there, Matthew’s hand was swollen three times its size. He had been bitten by a spider. Still, he was upbeat as always. That night, however, he texted me at 3 AM saying he was in such pain he thought he was going to die. I started trying to see if I could find antibiotics anywhere… even illegally online. It is VERY hard to find antibiotics without a prescription. I guess that’s good. I dunno. I was frustrated as hell. But in my middle of the night search, I stumbled across this incredible bunch of medical people who drive around looking for homeless to give treatment:
I found Brett Feldman’s email on the site, emailed him and he emailed me back the next morning. By this time, I’d lost touch with Matthew, whom I’ve never heard from again. It’s tough – these people can vanish in an instant, for a variety of reasons. Brett and his team went to the place along The 110/LA River to try to help, but everyone was gone.
The good thing, though, is that I have developed a relationship with Brett and his team.
I’m not giving the bags away myself during the lockdown. Frankly, if I lived alone I’d still be dropping off bags. But that wouldn’t be fair to my roommate or anyone else I encounter at, say, the grocery store. What is good, though, is that until the COVID lockdown is over, I can give these bags to the Street Medicine team and they are handing them out to the people they encounter. Which means… more bags. And when the lockdown is over, I’d love to keep giving Street Medicine bags as well as creating them my own continued use.
All of this leads to questions:
Brett and the street medicine team have encouraged me to go public with this. Even get a news article written about it. This makes me uncomfortable as I don’t want to draw attention to myself in this manner. “Oh, you’re so amazing” Ugh.
Yet… as I think about it, and as this project gets bigger and costlier and more time-consuming, I think… “Well, if more people could be helped, maybe I should draw attention to it to raise money and get corporate sponsorships?”
After some thoughts, I decided to apply for non-profit status.
The name is Bags And Grace.
bagsandgrace.com is registered and shortly we’ll have a logo and the page will be up.
I’m thinking of doing a Go Fund Me page. People will be able to write it off if we get non-profit status and also I hope to get the much needed sponsorships. Starkist is going to be more likely to donate when we’re a non-profit.
Soon I will need help. It takes me around 45 minutes to do 25 bags, including the unwrapping and storing of products, etc. And of course I’m left with a lot of detritus:
The City of Glendale has a free curbside trash pickup… but they won’t do cardboard as that is recyclable and they expect that to be placed in my bins (way too much) or brought to the dump (not enough time). Anyway…
I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of this and/or suggestions as to what I could or should do. I’m willing to do an interview about it, to help raise money. I also know there are people out there who would be much better than I at, say, calling Starkist or Crest to get free stuff.
Please let me know what you think and if initially you have any contacts that could help.
Thanks for listening!
Reusable Bulk Bag – 3.00
Crest Mini-Brush (2 per packet) – 1.20
Jergens Mositerizer – .80
Purell Wipes – 1.00
Lib Balm – 1.00
Emergen-C – 1.00
Plastic Cutlery – .15
Justin’s Almond Butter – 1.00
Starkist Tuna – 1.00
Beef Stick – 1.00
Dinty Moore Stew – 1.20
Lentils – 1.30
Ritz Crackers and Cheese – .50
BelVita – .50
Protein Bar – 1.00
Nut Bar – .75
Nutri Grain – .30
Nuts – .65
Trail Mix – .65
Nature Valley Protein – .55
Granola Bar – .30
Cliff Bar – 1.00
Kind Mini Bar – .75
RX Bar – 1.50
Coconut Water – 1.00
Water (2) – 2.00
Premier Protein – 2.00
Socks – 3.00
Batteries – 1.00
So each bag TOTALS about:
$32 dollars, give or take for the changes.
Then the Hoodie is about $12-14, depending on what I can find.