Pay it forward: A monthly food & toiletry drive to Help and Hug the homeless in San Diego
By: Jacqueline Penhos
Hugs and Bags provides a Hand Up, instead of a Hand out. I believe in helping people with their basic needs. Promoting self sufficiency and maximum independence through a Hug, warm meals, snacks, toiletries, clothes, and resources. During the first H&Bs in December, a lady returned to the line and asked if she could tell me something. Without hesitation, I asked another volunteer to step in as I walked with her. She said, “I want to thank you for doing this, I haven’t washed my hair in a few weeks, my skin was bleeding because I was without lotion, and now I can smell like a woman.” As we began to talk more, she shared her story. She had a career, education, apartment, and husband. Her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He lost his job, she was the primary caretaker (physically and financially), after a few years the complexities and stress took a toll on her health. Her dear husband passed away, depression took over life. Depression and stress (both silent killers) conquered her mental health. She lost her job, home and now she sleeps in shelters when there’s an opening. After listening to her story, It took everything in me to hold back my tears. This can happen to any of us, all of us. It’s called life, and sometimes our plans fail, we fail to plan or a support system is absent. It’s the small things that make all the difference! Most of us bathe, at least once a day. We use shampoo, conditioner, lotion, brush our teeth, and even use perfume or cologne. Another person, a man,said, he was thankful for the razors, condoms, and toothpaste. Most people, never give hygiene a second thought, since it’s the norm.
Hugs and Bags started out as a thought. I remembered a feeling I never wanted to experience again. Twenty years ago, when my parents immigrated to this country, our family experienced an unfortunate situation that no family should have to live. We were homeless and without toiletries for a few months. As a young girl, I remember wishing for clothes. I’ll never forget a lady walking up to my mother and handing her a bag full of clothes and toiletries for my brother and I. It felt like Christmas, having a sweater, jeans, and lotion. We always had love (Hugs) from our parents but receiving hand me downs made all the difference. We hear about paying it forward all the time. I’m telling you, it works! People remember, a life can be changed through your simple act of kindness. A Hug and a Bag, what a concept. Hugs like smiles are free and worth millions. The gift bags are filled with donations from people like you and I. Inside the bags, one will find depending on gender: Shampoo, conditioner, lotion, tooth paste, a tooth brush, hygiene products, lotion, floss, tissue, Q-tips, soap,a snack bar, a sweater/t-shirt and a pair of jeans or pants. We also provide a war meal along with a brown bag lunch.
With the help, support,and an abundance of donations from our community, Hugs & Bags is has grown from 1 person to a team of 10 dedicated volunteers. In December 2013, 75 people were helped and hugged. The numbers more than doubled in January, serving 200 individuals. Last month (January 2014) children participated and learned the virtues of sharing, caring and paying it forward. Being of service, speaks volumes but teaching our selflessness to our next generation is priceless. I am honored to be service, if one person is warmer, happier, refreshed, and fed H&Bs has accomplished its goal. The Love Movement in 2014, starts within, one person, one meal, one gift bag at a time.
On April 26 Hugs & Bags will incorporate “Cuts & Stuff” as an inclusive event at Hugs & Bags, as well as an event for those who just want that fresh new hair cut, style or product to give a fresh new look to those who have not had the time or attention given to them on their looks and fashion. Food, clothing and shelter has always been the everyday need and priority for those who are in transition… a day to day struggle just to make through to the next. Adding something as simple as a new haircut style or new looks can add a touch of self pride and dignity to ones esteem.
As of last year, the homeless population in San Diego was estimated at over 9,000 people. This number does not reflect the women and children who are unaccounted for. Is there problem? Yes, can everyone make a difference to make someone’s life easier, at least for one day? Absolutely! As the African proverb states, “It takes a Village, to raise a child.” I also believe it takes a village to help our fellow human beings stay warm, clean, and enjoy a warm meal. Hugs and Bags is held on the last Saturday of each month, at noon. Locations vary, although they will always be held in Downtown, San Diego. My passion, personal experience, and willingness to make a difference were enough to develop, H&B’s. For more information or to volunteer or donate, please contact Jacqueline Penhos @ 619-200-2708 or www.facebook.com/ArtofBeingYou,LivingwithExuberance.
Show your support for this worthy cause by contributing to The Art Of Being You, so they can continue to provide a valuable service to the San Diego community.