Small Sparks in the Dark

disclaimer:  I don’t like talking about the family’s acts of charity.  I’m pretty sure Jesus meant it when He told us to practice the corporal works of mercy in such a way that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.  So this post is very uncomfortable for me, but I feel led to write it.

homeless bagsI know so many of us struggle with how to help the homeless.  I know there are as many schools of charitable thought as there are souls wrestling with the issue.  Do you give money?  Directly to the individual, or through an organization?  Do you offer to buy a meal?  Do you wonder if maybe the person’s a con artist?  What if they just parlay your charity into drugs?  How do you overcome the monumental awkwardness that accompanies person-to-person interactions?

I remember the first time I ever saw someone directly offer aid to a homeless person.  It was in Georgia, on the outskirts of Atlanta, and there was a man standing on the median with a sign asking for help.  The driver of car in front of us rolled down his window, and a I saw a bag of chips or something  being offered to the homeless man.  It was a revelation to me, something that honestly yanked me a little way out of my self-centered worldview.  It had never ever occurred to me that you could directly help out another person without the buffer of a charitable organization between you.

From that point on, I tried to offer food whenever I ran across someone who needed it.  Small sparks in the dark.  Nothing profound or particularly helpful, but hopefully something that lit up the darkness a tiny amount, for a tiny amount of time.  But the problem was, many times when God placed someone in my path who needed help, I didn’t have any food on me.  I didn’t have anything at all that I could offer, other then direct eye contact and a hello.

Direct eye contact and a hello is the most painful thing to offer, for a variety of reasons.

Then I ran across this video on, which is itself a small spark in the dark, and I felt like an answer to a prayer had come (think about that for a minute.  Our God is so generous that He not only cares about the poor and marginalized, but He also cares enough about sheltered middle class housewives who want to help to put concrete ideas in their path).

I posted it to my Facebook wall, and lots of people got excited by the prospect.  But as happens in our lives (or at least mine), good intentions often get lost in the business of every day.

Which brings me to the whole point of this post, and my violation of Matthew 6:3- I didn’t want this idea to just be a nice thought.  I wanted this idea to become a reality, and it’s my hope that by sharing it with you, you’ll be motivated to make it a reality in your life, too.  Then there will be lots of sparks in the dark.

homeless backpack

Take three. In the first two, the kids looked so somber you’d have thought someone had died. When I reminded them that God loves a cheerful giver, this was their poses for the next shot.

Here’s our two homeless backpack kits we made up last Friday.  The cost came right to $40 for the pair, except I really want to get peanut butter, which will end up driving the price slightly beyond the $20 mark in the video.  However, I think that if we keep our eye out for backpacks during garage sale season, we’ll be able to lower costs.  Goodwill backpacks were $6, and if Joaquin hadn’t donated one of his backpacks, we couldn’t have kept to the $20 mark.

Each pack contains the following:
backpack : $6 Goodwill/donated by Joaquin

hat: $3 Goodwill

scarf: $3 Goodwill

metal thermos: $1-$2 Goodwill

3 pairs socks, one of which was thermal: $2 total, dollar store

1 washcloth: pack of two, $1 dollar store

2 packs kleenex: pack of 8: $1, dollar store

1 cup instant oatmeal: $1 dollar store

3 cups noodle soup: $1 dollar store

2 granola bars: pack of 5, $1, dollar store

bottle of sport water: $1, dollar store

bottle of hand sanitizer: pack of 3, $1, dollar store

roll of toilet paper: pack of 4, $1, dollar store

Like I said, I still want to add a jar of peanut butter, which will up the total, but as is, everything here was $36.

We packaged up the objects in ziplock bags, because we figured it would keep them dry and the ziplock bags could be useful in other ways, too.

homeless backpacks socks

The two bags are now in the back of our van, and the next time our path crosses with someone who needs help, we can offer this.

We weren’t really sure what all to include, other than what was suggested in the video, but at Mass on Sunday, Father was talking about the parish youth group’s annual mission trip to Boston to go serve the homeless population there.  He said that person after person said that toiletries weren’t particularly helpful (“Where am I going to take a shower?” one man asked), but socks were a prized commodity.  Socks could be used as gloves on cold days, or a vessel to carry possessions, or a number of other uses.  So we made sure to include socks.

I took six small kids with me to Goodwill and the Dollar Tree, and in the space of an hour, we had everything we needed.  Not a lot of time, not a huge amount of money.  If I can do it, it’s got to be stupid easy.

$40, one hour, and you’ll have something with you that will allow you to be God’s hands and feet in this world, lighting small sparks.


  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this, Cari. Small sparks indeed. When you posted it on FB I contacted both our American Heritage Girls troop and our local homeschool group. We’re going to make a bunch of these, I hope, and flood our community with love and mercy.

    People are hungry for this type of activity. One where we can feel useful and personally involved with those in need. Thanks again for sharing this.

  2. says

    This is so beautiful, I’m in awe.

    When Obi and I lived in Tucson it had one of the highest populations of homeless in the country. There were entire city parks that were tolerated as homeless cities. And of course all of them stood on medians selling papers, sometimes with a sign, sometimes not, but the need for help was implied. Obi was in grad school at that point and we had two little babies, so not exactly wealthy. We played the lottery all the time, and our #1 event in dreaming of winning was stuffing 1000 grocery bags with a $1000 dollars and driving all over Tucson passing them out. Probably a horroble way of actually helping the homeless, but we wanted to do it to see the joy and surprise on their faces x 1000. So I guess it was actually a pretty selfish wish.

  3. says

    As to tooting your own horn, you’re just looking at it from the wrong perspective. You were prompted to share this because you have been called into Christian ministry. You are called to exhort others to good works–and what are good works if they’re not works of charity. I have been praying for weeks for God to show me things I can do with my children to GIVE to NEEDY and to be charitable. I had no idea how or where. I am grateful that you shared this. Now I have at least something I can be prepared to do NOW while I continue to pray to learn how to do more! God bless! -Camilla

  4. says

    Socks are absolutely one of the best things you can give!! With every adult/teen/child shelter I’ve volunteered with/donated to, socks are always at the top of the list, especially in places where there is winter. And especially this time of year, when everyone has stopped giving after the holidays!

    Watching a 13 year old (who has been on the streets since his parents kicked him out) tear up because someone gave him a new pair of socks? Breaks your heart, yet empowers you to get out and do more good. Way to go, Cari and family!

  5. LaVon says

    Thank you for sharing this excellent idea. May I suggest also adding a simple card or note inside each bag. Something like, “Prayer leads to miracles.” Or even just one of those simple “worry stones” that reads “faith”, “love”, “hope”, etc. Let’s help lead them home to The Lord.

  6. says

    This is a fantastic idea! I think by your sharing you have given other people ideas to help more people so hopefully God appreciates that aspect of your post : )

    We will have to get a few backpacks made for our van. Would you mind if I linked back to this post?

  7. says

    I definitely fall into the category of that awkward person who doesn’t want to ignore a cry for help, but isn’t quite sure what to do either. I was thinking, even if you (you referring to people in general in this case) don’t get a chance to put a whole backpack together, perhaps you could keep socks or a jar of peanut butter in your car so at least you had something to offer.

    I wonder about sharing about acts of charity too– if it will encourage someone or if it’s violating teachings as you pointed out. I’m glad you decided to share because it helps me to see examples of how other people live their faith.

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