My Wife, The Bag Lady

Today I want to brag on my wife a bit.

Kathy is great at trying to meet the needs of people she meets. One group which has always tugged at her heartstrings is the homeless. Austin has a large homeless population, and we’re up that way often enough that we encounter them regularly. On our anniversary weekend, we spent Sunday morning at the Church Under the Bridge, a worship service cosponsored by a group of local churches for the benefit of the street people of that city.

The most common encounter we have with these folks is at traffic lights, where one will often be holding up a cardboard sign, ranging from the plaintive (“On the road, my dog needs food”) to the tongue-in-cheek (“Why lie? I need a beer.”). Of course, we have all of the usual concerns about handing out cash to people we don’t know. We have done so at times, but it’s always been with a measure of unease, not knowing whether that money will help or ultimately fuel some destructive downward spiral.

It was with these concerns in mind that Kathy hit on a brilliant idea: why not have the essentials for life packed up and ready to go whenever someone asks? She brainstormed, planned, visited the dollar store, talked with others, and soon had her first batch of large plastic bags filled with water bottles, nonperishable foods, shampoo, washcloths, hand sanitizer, soap, and often a small New Testament. We stashed these in the van, ready for our next stoplight encounter.

Now, when we come to a halt and spot someone in need, there’s a mad scramble to find a bag and to hand it over before the light turns green. The recipients have been almost universally excited to receive the bundles, and it’s been great fun to actually be able to help in such a tangible, immediate way.

As time has gone on, she’s started making larger batches of these bags, not only for us to carry around, but also for other interested people to have available. She’s distributed them to others in our church, to family members, and to a variety of friends. She’s had a couple of bag-making parties at the house, where the attendees will work together to assemble 100 bags in a couple hours. And she’s assembled and organized donations from a variety of sources, as well as found the cheapest and best places to get all of these essentials.

And now she has discovered Bags of Grace, an organization up in Austin with a similar mission, run by a dynamic woman named Rita with whom she shared a lunch and great conversation recently. I expect they’ll be meeting up more in the future to share strategies and combine efforts.

So if you’re interested in supporting some of “the least of these” in our society and want to help assemble or distribute these bags, give Kathy a call. She’ll be glad you did, and so will some people you’ve only ever met at a stoplight.