There he is again with his sign, “anything helps. God bless.” I saw him in a different place in town a few days ago. He has a dog with him. Part of me wants to help. The other part does not want to contribute to drug or alcohol abuse. I drive on by, again, feeling some guilt but also frustration, again.

Perhaps that has happened to you, too. Wesee them occasionally at busy intersections or around the entrances to shopping areas. Our compassion argues with the reality that some people scam our compassion. And both those thoughts wrestle with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink….” So what can we do that might help in a tangible way without propagating dependence?
The Southside Church family in Richland, WA, has found a unique way to offer kindness to
the people they encounter in these situations. On Sunday mornings, there is small table in the entry way with some nonperishable food items: water, fruit cup, cheese and crackers, canned sausages. In addition a card with the church’s information is included as well instructions for what to do with the “blessing bag” once it is assembled. Lastly, a small copy of the Gospel of Mark in modern language (ESV) is included in the bag.  All Blessing Bag items are all donated by people in the church.

This project started very modestly in Richland. Enough items were provided for 5 bags the first week. It was announced simply in the first service. By the end of the second service, all five bags had been assembled and taken. The next week, enough materials were provided for 10 bags.  As simple training about how to engage people has been given to church people, the number of bags going out on Sundays in starting to increase.

The WHY: This effort is not meant to provide an easy salve for a troubled conscious. These bags are meant to be tangible expressions of care for those who are struggling with the basics of life and give the Southside Church family a means of gently engaging people they might not otherwise be able to approach.

The RESULTS: Of course, these bags will not end hunger in Richland. “What we provide most is encouragement, not food. It’s not up to us to judge what anyone actually means when they hold a sign that says, ‘Anything helps.’  Christ called us to feed the hungry and provide for the thirsty, so this is our attempt to do that, in both body and spirit,” says Laurie Gruel, Southside Associate Pastor.  “Our people learned to put a face on this street population by engaging individuals in brief conversation and by telling them we cared while handing them a small bag of food and water.  We’ve been encouraged by the gratitude and smiles we have received as we extended Christ’s love to others.  It turns out our little Blessing Bags blessed US right along with those we sought to bless!”

If you would like more information about how Southside Church is doing this ministry in safe and effective ways, please contact Pastor Jim Amend at pastorjim.amend@gmail.com or (509) 943-3735.

Do you have a ministry that you would like to share with the wider family? Please contact Patti Duckworth at p-duckworth@abcnw.org or (406) 788-4350.